Roy Glashan's Library
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Published as a syndicated serial in, e.g.:
The Goldburn Evening Post, Australia, 1 Jun 1943 ff
The Daily Mercury, Mackay, Australia, 18 Dec 1945 ff
The Northam Advertiser, 12 Nov 1947 ff
The Beverley Times, Australia, 12 Dec 1947 ff
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First book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021©
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JOHN RUNDLE: Thirty-eight years old, unmarried. A tall man of the open-air type. He undertakes to visit New Mexico at the request of his friend...

SIR HARRY HARCOURT: Landowner and aristocrat, who has been left trustee and guardian of his eighteen years old niece...

SALLY HARCOURT: Brunette, with extremely clear skin, and dark brilliant eyes. Slim, strong, and intensely alive.

MAT RUTHERFORD: In love with Sally. Owner of neighbouring ranch. A strong man who says little, but is a good friend in a tight corner.

NORMA HARCOURT: Widow of Dandy Harcourt, brother of Sir Harry, American. From Mrs Harcourt Sally gets most of her qualities.

CHARLES KING: Looks a typical Prussian. A thorough-paced scoundrel who sticks at nothing. Is in league with...

SPALDING: A brute likened to Mussolini. Leader of a gang. Tries to get possession of Rutherford's ranch at Halleck.



JOHN RUNDLE put a lump of sugar into the cup of black coffee that stood on the stool beside him, filled his pipe and lit it, stretched his slippered feet to the wood fire and relaxed comfortably in his big, old, leather-covered arm chair. This was the hour John liked best. All day he had been out on the farm, not merely supervising but doing his share of the work. His job had been driving the tractor with which they were hauling huge stumps from a piece of newly-cleared land.

This was the way of it. John's father, partner in the leather firm of Richards and Rundle, had died suddenly when John was only eight. He had left his widow comfortably off and all should have gone well but for Douglas Sherborne. Sherborne was an American. At least, he called himself American. He was a remarkable handsome man and had—when he chose—most charming manners. He met Mrs Rundle and flattered her into a quick marriage.

After this he kept his looks but lost his manners—so far, at least, as his wife and step-son were concerned. He spent his wife's money and treated her abominably. This went on for nine horrible years. Then John, aged 17 and already nearly six feet tall, and hoping to take part in the first World War, walked in one day to see his step father threatening his mother. Next moment Mr Douglas Sherborne received John's fist in the jaw The force of the blow stunned the brute.

John led his mother out of the room and, when he came back, his stepfather had left the house. They did not see him again. But when Mr Ergood, their lawyer, took stock he found that Mrs Sherborne had less than £200 a year left. Mr Richards offered John a post in the London office of his father's old firm and there he worked for eighteen years, hating it yet sticking to it so that he might give an eye to the comfort of his mother. Then when his mother died, Sir Harry Harcourt, who had just come in for the title and the old family place, Stanways, offered him the job of reclaiming Charnwood, a three-hundred acre farm which had become almost derelict.

John jumped at the job. For some years he and his mother had been living out of town in Hertfordshire where he had taken a small house with eight acres of land. All his spare time he had spent on this land and he had created a kitchen garden and poultry farm that were the envy of his neighbours. What was more he had soaked himself in books on farming.

This was his chance and he had made the most of it. To-day, after only two years' work, Charnwood's once barren acres were in cultivation and in another year would be paying good dividends.

John had finished his coffee and nearly finished his pipe when he heard the front door open. There were steps in the hall passage and the sitting-room door was flung open and a straight-backed, square-shouldered man came in quickly.

"You, Harry," said John in surprise. "Something wrong?"

"Yes John," answered the other. "Dandy is dead—killed by a fall from his horse."

"Dandy—your brother who went to America?"

"Yes. You never met him, of course. He went out more than twenty years ago and settled in New Mexico. Did well. He owned a big ranch—Tres Cruces. Married an American girl and they had one daughter, Sally, who must be about eighteen. It's from her I've had the news. She cables that Dandy made me her trustee and guardian and—this is the snag—she wants me to come out."

"To handle the ranch?"

"The ranch seems to be all right. They have a competent manager. There's some other trouble which Sally says she will explain to me when I come."

"You've had no hint of that?"

"No. Dandy was a bad correspondent. He hardly ever wrote except at Christmas. And this is the first letter I've had from Sally.

"You wouldn't get full marks yourself, Harry, as a letter-writer," John said with a faint smile.

"That's true. I'd told Dandy that Nell's health was not too good. But I can't go, John—that's flat! It's up to you."

"Up to me!" John's eyes widened. "I know nothing of ranching."

"You're a farmer. You're a man of business, and you've got common sense. You're just the man for the job. Anyhow, there's no one else I could possibly send."

"But the farm, Harry!" For once there was something like dismay in John's voice and manner. "How can I possibly leave it?"

"Quite easily. You've done all the donkey work—and done it well. Harrison can carry on. Besides, you won't be gone for long. You can get to New York in a week, and do the rest of the journey by air. And the holiday won't do you any harm. You haven't been off this place more than three nights in the past two years."

"Oh, all right," John answered with something like a groan. "I'll go." He paused. "This girl Sally—she doesn't give you any idea what the trouble may be?"

"Not the faintest—except that it has nothing to do with the ranch."

"Then it's personal," said John, shrewdly. "Is Sally engaged?"

"Not that I know of. Hang it all! She's only eighteen."

"It's evidently personal. Harry, if I tackle this job, I'm going to do it incognito, my own way. I'm going incognito."

"Yes. You write or cable that you can't get away. Say nothing about me. I'll go along and put up somewhere near by. Pretend to be looking for land or work. When I have some idea of what's wrong, then perhaps I can do something."

Sir Harry frowned thoughtfully.

"Sounds a roundabout way of doing things, but if it's your way, all right. I give you a free hand, but you must leave to-morrow. I'll 'phone for a berth."

John groaned again. The other smote him on the shoulder.

"Buck up! I'll bet you'll enjoy it once you're started."


NINE days after leaving England, John Rundle stood in a bedroom of the San Juan Hotel, in the border town of El Paso, gazing at his own reflection in a fly-spotted mirror.

None of his fellow-passengers would have recognized him. His well cut tweeds had been renounced for grey flannel trousers, a blue cotton shirt, and a ready-made coat of a thin material which the store-keeper from whom he bought it, called "seer sucker." On his head was a broad-brimmed hat of rough straw, and on his feet a pair of rubber-soled canvas shoes. He chuckled as he glanced at the mirror.

"I hope I haven't overdone it."

After breakfast, carrying only one small suitcase, John boarded a bus which, he was told would take him to Piegan, the town nearest to Tres Cruces. What he was going to do when he got there he wasn't very sure but meantime he was greatly interested in his surroundings.

Only twice before had John been out of England—both times to Paris on business for his firm. Of America he had so far seen nothing but New York. He had flown the whole way from there to El Paso.

The bus was a rough vehicle and big. It would carry a dozen, but there were only five aboard including John. Two were of light complexion the others seemed to be Mexicans, for here the road ran close to the river, the Rio Grande del Norte, which is the boundary line between the United States and Mexico.

"Fine country ain't it?" John realized that his opposite neighbour was speaking to him.

"Very fine," John agreed, "but rather different from anything I've seen before."

"You're British, I reckon," remarked the other, a gross-looking fellow with a red, perspiring face and a bull neck. He had little sharp grey eyes, and John did not much like his looks. But he decided to be civil.

"I am English," he agreed.

"Taking a holiday?" the fat man went on. Clearly he was not a Westerner, for men of the West are not inquisitive about the business of strangers. John had his story pat.

"I am here for my health," he answered. The stout man gazed at John's lean six feet of muscle.

"Gee, you don't look as if you'd much wrong with you."

"Not a lot, just a spot on one of my lungs. My doctor said that the change out here would put me right." The other nodded.

"That doc knowed what he was saying. Where do you reckon to stay?"

"I haven't made up my mind. I don't want to loaf. I can't afford to. I might look for a bit of land—if it was cheap—and try market gardening or goat farming. I'm told there's money in Angora goats."

"That's right, stranger." The speaker was the other white passenger. "There's money in goats and there's cheap land up beyond Azurite."

John pricked up his ears. "How far is that?" he asked.

"Fifteen miles beyond Piegan. Nice country. You'd ought to look at it."

"I'll do that," John promised. The bus was now grinding slowly up a steep hill. Without warning it came to an abrupt stop. The driver alighted and opened the bonnet. Nothing happened.

"Wouldn't wonder if he'd run out of gas," the young man remarked John got out. The driver, a long, lean fellow, was fiddling with the carburetor, "Don't seem to get no gas through," he said dismally.

"Is there any in the tank?" John asked.

"Ought to be. She was plumb full when we started."

"Choke in the feed pipe, perhaps. Let me have a look." He had the carburetor down in no time. He looked up.

"Filter choked. Can't have been cleaned in a month."

"No fault o' mine," said the man sourly. "They only put me on this route to-day. Kin you fix it?"

"I can fix it," John told him and rapidly did so. Within less than a quarter of an hour all was clear and they were again on their way.

"Mighty lucky you was here, mister," said the dark-haired boy gratefully. "It's a mighty long walk to Piegan." For the rest of the way he talked about the country and John listened with interest.

Piegan was a small place high above the river. The bus pulled up in front of a sun-scorched building on which was painted in large letters:


The youth spoke in John's ear.

"Come in and have a drink, mister. The beer's good and cold."

John, who was thirsty, accepted From the bar the boy glanced back towards the door.

"Just wanted to see if Greg Stone was snooping," he whispered.

"Is that the fat man?"

"That's him. I reckon you ain't got more use for him than I have."

"There are people I've liked better," said John drily. The other grinned, showing very white teeth, then turned serious.

"My name's Sid Kirby. I work for Mat Rutherford at Halleck. I been to El Paso on business for him. Now I got to take a truck o' feed out to the ranch. If you like to come along you're welcome."

"Want me to drive?" John asked. "I can drive the dern machine but I got to admit I don't know a thing about its innards. So if anything goes wrong you'll come handy."

John laughed again. He liked this boy's frankness. Also the trip would give him an opportunity of seeing the country and perhaps of gaining useful information.

"I'll go with you," he said. "My name is John Rundle. How soon do we start?"

"Right away. She's all ready, loaded."


THE truck was a two-ton vehicle piled with sacks of oats, bran and cotton-seed meal. Sid took the wheel and drove away out of the town up a steep hill on a "dirt" road and the surface was bad.

At the top Sid stopped and looked back.

"Jest wanted to see Greg Stone weren't snooping," he remarked.

"Who is he and why should he snoop?" John demanded. Sid shrugged.

"Now you're asking something. Greg's what you might call a professional snooper. He was some interested in you."

"Why? What for?" John asked sharply.

"No need to get fussed up, Rundle. It were jest because you were a stranger. Greg, he watches all strangers."

"Does he suspect me of being a cattle rustler?" John asked grimly. Sid threw back his head and laughed.

"I reckon he'd fill that part, better'n you, Rundle. More likely he'd think you might be a Federal agent."

"Do you mean he's a crook?" John asked bluntly. Sid shook his head.

"But I wouldn't put it past him to be working for some as is outside the law."

"I had a notion that cattle rustling was out of date," said John.

"So it is, mostly, though I wouldn't say a few head ain't stole, especially along the border. But there's worse things than cattle-rustling, and so you'll know afore you've been here long." As he spoke he let in the clutch and the truck rumbled onwards.

This was different country from the valley below. Dry ground, gravel, and sand. Instead of grass there were mere shrubs, sotol, creosote bush, sage. It wasn't actual desert yet nearer to it than John had yet seen.

Kirby's lips were firmly set as he drove. He was concentrating on avoiding the pot holes which threatened the springs of the heavily laden truck.

"I wish," John said, "that you'd tell me—"

Instead of answering, young Kirby braked so suddenly that John had to thrust out his hands to save himself from being flung against the windscreen.

"See!" Kirby snapped and pointed. Beside the road lay a man flat on his face his arms extended.

Kirby was out before John and kneeling beside the body. He lifted the limp head, then pointed to the stain of blood which darkened the man's shirt between the shoulder-blades.

"Shot through the back!" he said, and his voice was hard, "Dead as mutton!"

"Who is he? Do you know him?" John asked.

"He's called Burdett; and he ain't got too good a reputation."

"What do we do about it?"

"Fetch the sheriff from Piegan, I guess."

"I'll go if you like," John offered.

"You're a stranger. You might have trouble. I'll go. T'aint more'n two miles. You stay here and don't let no one meddle with the body—nor with the truck."

Left alone, John stood looking at the body. It was that of a man between thirty and forty, a long lank fellow with coarse black hair. He wore blue jeans stuffed into high boots and a dark-coloured shirt.

"I seem to have tumbled right into something," John mused. "Spies, murder, mystery."

The sun was scorching. He climbed back into the truck, sat down, filled and lit his pipe. Time passed, and suddenly he heard the sound of horses' hoofs. A man was riding towards him from the opposite direction. The man pulled up beside the truck. He was a well set up young fellow with thick brown hair and blue eyes. He wore riding breeches and a well cut jacket of thin tweed.

"Who are you?" he demanded curtly, "and what are you doing with my truck?" John took his pipe from his mouth.

"Minding it," he answered. "Kirby has gone back to Piegan to fetch the sheriff." He pointed with his pipe towards the body by the road side.

The other looked. He started sharply, and John saw in his eyes something like fear. He dismounted, and stepped quickly across to the body.

"Ace Burdett," he muttered. "Thank God it's not one of our boys."


JOHN had been a little annoyed at the first curt questions. Now his opinion changed for no one could doubt the man's relief at finding the body was not that of one of his own people.

"Kirby told me that his name was Burdett," John said, "but he did not seem to know much about him."

"No more do I," replied the other.

"May I ask your name."

"John Rundle. I am newly arrived in this part of the world. You're Mr Rutherford, I suppose?"

"That's my name." He put out his hand. "Glad to meet you Mr Rundle. How long has Sid been gone?"

"Nearly an hour."

"Then he and Webb should be here soon. Yes, there they are," he added as a battered looking car topped the hill half a mile away and came rapidly towards them, "Homer Webb is a good fellow, Mr Rundle, and a good Sheriff means a lot in this part of the country."

The car stopped and Webb got out. He was a chunky man of about 40 with keen grey eyes. John felt instinctively that he was as square in mind as in body.

"This is Mr Rundle as I told you about sheriff," Sid said. "He's from England."

"I can see that," said the sheriff gravely as he shook hands with John and sized him up with one quick glance. Then he turned to the body and examined it with professional carefulness.

"Ace Burdett," he said as he straightened up. "I told him a long time ago this would be the end of him if he got mixed up with Leach Lewis." He paused. "Shot through the back, but he wasn't killed here. There's no blood on the ground, and he's been dead a good few hours. Killed last night, I reckon, and the body dumped here as a warning. Well, there ain't nothing to do but take it back to Piegan. Sid, you and Mr Rundle will be needed for the inquest. Can you come along by ten to-morrow morning?"

"In that case I'd better come back to the town with you now, Mr Webb," John said.

"Ain't no need fer that," put in Sid quickly. "I reckon he can stay the night in our bunk-house."

"Surely," said Rutherford. "I'll see they're both at Piegan in good time to-morrow, sheriff." They helped lift the body into the back of the sheriff's car and he drove off.

"Best get on home," Rutherford said, "or we'll be late for dinner." He turned his horse and went off at a quick lope. The truck rumbled after. Sid was too busy avoiding potholes to do much talking and John was able to study the country.

The scenery became wilder. To the north mountains rose to a height of about three thousand feet. The barest mountains John had ever seen. Only here and there, in the deep clefts was there any trace of greenery. The summits stood up jagged and desolate against the blazing blue of the sky.

Suddenly the road began to drop and John was looking down into a deep valley, at the bottom of which a stream ran, to fall, some miles away into the Rio Grande. Sid pointed.

"That's the ranch house. That's Halleck. Nice, ain't it?" John's eyes widened.

"Why, it might be English," he exclaimed. Sid grinned.

"I reckon that's pretty much of a compliment—coming from a Britisher."

"I suppose it is," John agreed, with a laugh as he gazed at the plain, sturdy, brick-built house with its flower garden and long range of outbuildings.

"The boss has been to England," Sid told him, "He's educated, he is."

"So I thought," John agreed, "I like him."

"He's fine," said Sid fervently. "But I wish—" He stopped short and John wondered what he had left unsaid.

They pulled up in front of a barn.

"Nigh on dinner time," Sid said. "You go along to the bunk-house. I'll shed a few of these sacks." But John had already pulled off his coat.

"I'll lend a hand," he answered and deftly swung one on to his back. For a small man Sid was a good worker, but John handled two sacks to his one and when the triangle gong sounded the truck was empty. Sid looked at John admiringly.

"I'll tell a man you're worth your keep. What was you saying to Greg about your lungs?" John winked.

"Stick to that story, Kirby. Maybe I'll tell you more one of these days."

"Mums the word," Sid agreed "Come and wash. You're all in a sweat."

A wooden trough discharged a spout of ice-cold water into a tub outside the bunk-house. Sid provided soap, a towel and a comb, then led John, much refreshed and very hungry, into the bunk-house where four men were already at the table.

"Boys, this here gent is John Rundle. He's British and all white. Rundle, shake hands with our foreman, Bat Harrigan. This long drink o' water is Larry Ryan. Opposite you is Mart Metters, and the cross-eyed cove is Wolf Winter, even if he don't look it." John liked them all, even Winter, thought he seemed to be a hard case.

They made him welcome and he was given a meal which he thoroughly enjoyed.

The men talked little, and the minute they had finished went out.

"We're cutting alfalfa," Sid told John. "Reckon you'll have to amuse yourself till supper time." He hurried off and John followed.

The alfalfa looked well. John noticed that the big field in which it grew was irrigated. They were using a tractor to pull the mowing machine. Everything seemed to be up-to-date.

The tractor went down one row and turned. Then, just as it came opposite him, it stopped. Metters, who was driving, got out and opened the bonnet. He fiddled about and John heard him cursing softly. John walked up.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Derned if I know. She ain't sparking."

"May I have a look? I've driven these things."

"You bet you can look. I'll allow I'm fazed." John looked and presently traced the trouble to the distributor. The necessary tools were at hand, and within half an hour the damage was repaired and the engine running again.

"I'm sure obliged," said Metters heartily.

"And so am I." The speaker was Mat Rutherford who had been watching for some minutes "You're mighty useful, Mr Rundle. We'd have had to send to Piegan for a man to do that job." He paused and looked at John. "Sid says you're looking for work. Care to take on here? Forty a month and found."

John hesitated, but only for a moment. Halleck was the next ranch to Tres Cruces. True, he had intended to try for work at Tres Cruces, but this might be even better for his purpose.

"Thank you, Mr Rutherford," he said. "That will suit me excellently. Now what would you wish me to do?"

"Take the rest of the day off and look over the ranch. There are plenty of horses. You ride, of course?"

"I can stick on top of a quiet 'un," said John with a smile. Rutherford, too, smiled.

"We're no Rodeo show. Come to the stables, and I'll find you a mount."

A few minutes later John was astride a sturdy pony. The western saddle with its high cantle and long leathers, felt strange, but Rutherford nodded approvingly.

"You're modest," he said drily. Then he pointed out the limits of his property. "Best keep inside it," he added. "And don't ride up into those hills opposite." His face darkened. "There's been some trouble lately."


THERE were more people present at the inquest than John had expected. Rutherford had driven John and Sid into Piegan in his own car and all three found seats on a bench at one side of the big, bare room. Sid nudged John.

"That's Charles King," he whispered, indicating a man opposite them. King was a big, fair man of about thirty, handsome in a coarse, insolent fashion.

"A Jerry, by the look of him," John answered in an equally low voice.

"German, you mean?"

"Prussian," said John. "Look at the shape of his head."

"Maybe you're right, but he calls himself American. He's Spalding's nephew.

"That doesn't mean anything to me."

"It will afore you've been here very long," Sid prophesied.

"There's all sorts of queer business brewing in this place," John said to himself, and then he happened to glance at Rutherford. Rutherford was staring—glaring would be a better word—at Charles King, and the hate in his eyes gave John a real shock. He noticed, too, that Rutherford's fists were clenched so that the knuckles showed white.

At this moment the coroner came into the room and Rutherford relaxed. The coroner, whose name, Sid said, was Burgess, was brisk and business like. He called Sid to give evidence of finding the body, then John to corroborate. John was amused to notice that the various witnesses were all in the room together. Homer Webb was called next and explained his reasons for thinking that Burdett had been killed elsewhere and his body brought to the spot where it was found.

"Sounds like you're right, sheriff," said Burgess, "but it don't help us any to find who killed him. You got any idea on the subject?"

"Plenty of ideas," replied the sheriff grimly, "but no proof." The coroner called Charles King. As the man stood up John noticed his arrogant pose and felt more than ever convinced of his Hunnish ancestry.

"Burdett worked for you, Mr King?"

"He did," replied King, "but he quit three months ago."

"Do you know where he went?"

"I didn't ask him, Mr Burgess and I have no idea," was the reply. John had to admit that King spoke excellent English.

"Is there anything you can tell us about the deceased? Did he have any enemies as you know of?"

"He had some trouble once with a man named Winter."

"Wolf Winter who works for Mr Rutherford?" the coroner asked. Rutherford got up quickly.

"Winter works for me. The quarrel was nothing. Both men were a bit drunk and had an argument in the Square Deal. Burdett hit Winter and Winter knocked him down. But afterwards they had a drink together, so it's clear there was no bad blood."

"How do you know this, Mr Rutherford?" the Coroner asked.

"Winter told me."

"That is not evidence, Mr Rutherford." Sid sprang up.

"But I was there Mr Burgess. I saw it all, and it's just as the Boss says."

"Then that seems to clear the matter," Burgess said quickly, but King gave Sid an ugly look.

A doctor named Kent gave evidence as to the bullet found in Burdett's body. It was from a .38 calibre pistol. But that did not help. Nearly everyone in the country owned thirty-eights. The verdict was "Murder by person or persons unknown," and when the inquest was over John offered Sid a drink. He wanted to ask some questions. Rutherford had some shopping. They were to meet him at twelve.

John and Sid went into the Square Deal and took their schooners of lager to a table in a corner of the big bar room.

"What's the trouble between Mr Rutherford and this man, King?" John asked. Sid hesitated, "Don't tell me if you don't want to," John went on. "After all, it's no business of mine."

"No reason why I shouldn't," Sid answered. "They're both after the same girl."

"But no girl in her senses would prefer that blonde beast to Rutherford."

"I wouldn't have thought so," said Sid, "but girls is funny." He chuckled suddenly. "Blonde beast! That's a new one to me. I'll remember it. It fits him like—" He stopped short as a man came in with a steady, purposeful stride. It was King himself.

King went to the bar and ordered a drink. Sid drew a quick breath.

"Lucky he didn't hear you, Rundle."

"Why? It might have done him good."

"It wouldn't have done you no good," Sid told him.

"What do you mean?" Sid glanced at King.

"You better remember he's Spalding's nephew."

"I'm hearing a lot about Spalding," said John impatiently. "What is he—President of New Mexico."

"Not far off it. He pretty near owns this town and he has a big pull in the State."

"Sort of Public Enemy Number One!" jeered John. Sid remained serious.

"You laugh but that's because you ain't been living here. I tell you it ain't healthy to run against Spalding or any of his crowd." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "You look what happened to Ace Burdett."

"You mean Spalding was responsible?"

"I ain't saying so, but Burdett's not the first to go that way. I likes you, Rundle, so I'm asking you to watch your step." He glanced at the clock over the bar. "Just on twelve. We better be moving."

They went out. Rutherford's car stood by the kerb, but Rutherford himself was on the pavement opposite talking to the most lovely girl John had ever seen. She was a brunette with an extremely clear skin and dark brilliant eyes. Her hair was almost black, yet as the sun caught it, reflected a copper gleam. But she was none of your languid, half Spanish beauties. She was slim, strong, beautifully made and intensely alive.

She wore boots and breeches which certainly had not been made in New Mexico, and a half length linen coat. On her hair was a cream coloured felt hat with a cardinal feather stuck in the band. She was so arresting that John stood quite still gazing at her.

"Sweet, ain't she?" came Sid's voice at his elbow. John nodded.

"So she's the bone of contention," he asked. Sid frowned.

"That's no way to call her," he reproved. John chuckled. Sid was so delightfully literal.

"Between our boss, and the unpleasant Mr King, Sid," he explained. "No reflection on her. She's a peach."

A man banged out of the door behind them and in his hurry jostled John rudely. In fact, he nearly knocked him off the step. It was the "unpleasant" Mr King. He was striding on without attempting to apologise when John took a quick step after him, caught him by the arm and swung him round.

"Might I suggest that you look where you are going?" he said in his deceptively quiet voice.

King whirled on him. He was in a furious temper. He glanced at John as if he would not believe it possible that this tall, shabbily-dressed, middle-aged Englishman had dared to lay a hand on him.

"Damn your soul! Get out of my way," he swore.

"I can't call that an apology," said John, unmoved.

King's big fist balled and drove at John's jaw, but that, of course, was exactly what John had been expecting. He ducked like a flash, King's fist passed harmlessly over his shoulder and, before the man could recover his balance, John had closed and caught him round the waist. He gave one mighty heave and King shot out over the step to land with a startling crash on the wooden side-walk below.

The silence that followed was complete. Sid, who was still close behind John, seemed to have ceased breathing. Two punchers, who had just gone out to get their horses, stood as though paralyzed. Across the street Mat Rutherford and the girl were equally still.

John stepped down to the side-walk and, as he reached it, King struggled to his feet. One hand was bleeding and one knee of his breeches split.

"Sorry!" said John easily, "but you asked for it."

"I'll kill you for that," King said in a voice which came from deep down in his throat and made John more certain than ever that he was pure Prussian.

"Don't be silly," John retorted, "we're not in Hollywood."

"Hell is where you'll be before you're much older," King said and strode away.

John watched him a moment then saw Rutherford crossing the street towards him.

"You shouldn't have done that Rundle," he said quickly. "That man is dangerous."

Before John could reply the girl was beside him. Her face was alight with excitement. Her eyes were shining. "I think it was simply fine, Mr Rundle. You are the first person in this town to give that boastful beast the lesson he has been needing. Let me introduce myself. I am Sally Harcourt."


JOHN'S exploit in throwing Charles King down the steps of the Square Deal lost nothing in Sid's telling of it and John was a little embarrassed by the changed manner of his bunk-house companions when he joined them at the midday meal. Not that they said much. Men of their type do not praise a man to his face, yet their feelings were just as clear as any words could have made them.

What was not so pleasant was the evidence that all of the men clearly believed that John had signed his own death warrant. He began to realize that King and his mysterious uncle were actually as dangerous as Sid had described them. And presently he had fresh evidence on the subject.

He was to drive the tractor that afternoon. As he went out to his work, Rutherford came to meet him. And Rutherford's good-looking face bore a grave expression.

"Rundle, I want to talk to you," he said. "Come on to the verandah." John followed him, and Rutherford gave him a chair and offered him a cigar.

"You'll have to leave," Rutherford said abruptly.

"Isn't my work satisfactory?" John inquired.

"Your work man. It has nothing to do with your work. It's for your own sake. I don't want to have your death on my conscience."

"But I have no intention of dying. And I can't leave yet, I have promised to call on Miss Harcourt."

Rutherford gave him a quick, sharp look.

"No need to be jealous, Mr Rutherford I'm thirty-eight—old enough to be her father," For a moment Rutherford looked half offended.

"Thirty-eight," he repeated. "And you've done what I've longed to do for months past—and never dared to do. No, I'm not afraid of the big brute," he went on with a kind of fierce intensity. "I'd ask nothing better than to meet him in a twenty-foot ring and fight him to a finish. But—" he shrugged hopelessly, "I can't do it—there are reasons."

Again he paused, and John waited in silence, hoping that he was going to get the "low-down" on this queer business. He was disappointed.

Rutherford's manner changed. "You shall go to Tres Cruces. I will drive you myself. We will go to-night after supper. Now we must get on with the hay. The glass is falling, and there's a chance we may have rain." He got up. "You'll be all right here with the men, but whatever you do, don't leave the place or get away anywhere alone."

Driving a tractor is pretty much a mechanical job, so John had plenty of time to think. And he did a deal of thinking that afternoon.

Now at last Sally had come into focus, and John had begun to realise that her trouble had something to do with Rutherford. Quite plainly she was fond of him, and as for Rutherford, there was no doubt he was head over-ears in love with the girl.

What bothered John was the fact that this great brute King had clearly some hold over Rutherford. What it was he could not imagine, for he was perfectly sure that Rutherford had said no more than the truth when he had told him that he asked nothing better than a stand-up fight with King.

"Pity I didn't break his beastly neck when I chucked him down the steps!" he said to himself. "Next time he won't get off so easily."

John was not boasting. Wrestling had always been one of his hobbies, and he knew a good deal about it.

By dusk the whole field was cut and cocked, and before supper John had a sponge down and changed into a suit of old but well-cut grey flannels. He caught a slightly surprised look on his employer's face, but Rutherford was too well bred to make remarks on the changed appearance of his hired man. What he did say was:

"Don't you carry a gun?"

"A revolver," said John. "No. It wouldn't be any use. I couldn't hit a haystack. But I'm moderately useful with a twelve-bore or a rook rifle."

Rutherford nodded, "There's nothing more deadly than a sporting gun loaded with buckshot but there's a certain prejudice against its use in this country. A rifle—that's a different thing, Well take one in the car."

John's forehead creased. "You think that these people might lay for us?"

"They certainly would if they thought they could get away with it. I know it's hard for an Englishman to grasp the fact but you've to understand that King's crowd have not the slightest regard for human life. And you have put on King an insult which he will never forget or forgive. The one thing in our favour is that we have a sheriff. Webb is a good man and, so long as he holds office, law still runs in this country. Webb, of course, is well aware of what happened this morning and, if your dead body was picked up—or mine—he would know who was responsible."

John nodded. "I'm beginning to understand but you'll admit it's all a bit startling for a man newly arrived from England. There, you see, we depend on our police."

"I know. I've been there. But we must get on. There's a good moon. That's all against bushwacking."

Rutherford drove well, and though the road was bad, his powerful car made good speed. Tres Cruces lay to the west of Halleck, between it and Piegan.

"It's a big ranch," Rutherford told him, "and has better grazing than Halleck. The house is old. There, you can just see it below us."

But it was not until they were quite close that John appreciated the size and beauty of the place. Tres Cruces ranch house had been built in the old days before New Mexico became a part of the United States. It was of abode, a sun-dried clay, with immensely thick walls and a wide, pillared verandah covered with creeping plants. In front was a real lawn, which surprised John, who had as yet seen no turf in New Mexico. The drive was asphalted and the big car pulled up quietly in front of a great door which stood wide open. A second door made of wire gauze kept night insects from invading the hall.

"Is that you, Mat?" Sally, looking lovely in a plain black evening frock, came hurrying out. "And Mr Rundle," she added. John heard the welcome in her voice and was pleased by it. She shook hands with him cordially, then took Mat's face in her two hands and kissed him. "Madre," she called, "here's Mat and this is Mr Rundle."

John found himself facing a second edition of Sally. The resemblance was startling—the more so that both women wore black. He was so surprised that he forgot to shake hands.

"You're not Sally's mother!" he exclaimed. She smiled slightly.

"I have always been under that impression," she answered demurely.

"Why should you doubt it?"

"You are not old enough."

"I was married at seventeen, Mr Rundle." John still gazed at her.

"Even so—" he said slowly, then a flush rose under his tan. "Forgive me, Mrs Harcourt. I am forgetting my manners"

"On the contrary, you have paid me a pretty compliment. Sit down and have some coffee. Or would you prefer whisky?"

"Coffee for me, please," John replied as he took a chair close to his hostess. She gave him black coffee and a cigarette and glanced across at Rutherford. He and Sally were sitting at the other side of the room talking eagerly and paying no attention to their elders.

Mrs Harcourt turned to John. "So Harry sent you," she said.


JOHN'S eyes widened. He looked so astonished that Mrs Harcourt smiled again.

"It's simple enough," she said. "About two years ago Harry sent Dandy some snaps of the farm. In one you and he were standing together at the front door. He did not mention you by name but I recognised you the moment you came into the hall. You see, Mr Rundle, you are not the sort of person to be easily forgotten."

"So all my undercover work goes for nothing," John said so ruefully that she laughed outright.

"There's no need to be upset," she told him. "I can be very discreet. But, tell me, what was the need for all this secrecy?"

"Surely it is obvious. Sally cabled that something was wrong and that it was not merely a matter of business which could be handled by a lawyer. It seemed to me I had a much better chance of getting to the bottom of it. If I came as I did instead of as a sort of special commissioner,"

"I see, and perhaps you are right. At any rate, I won't give you away—not even to Sally. Tell me, how much have you found out so far?"

"Precious little," John lowered his voice. "But the trouble has something to do with this fellow King. Young Sid Kirby informed me that the man had the infernal impudence to aspire to Sally, but surely Rutherford can hardly take him as a serious rival. Then, too, I've been hearing of King's uncle, Spalding, who seems to be a cross between Hitler and Mussolini."

"Not a bad description. King is a brute, but Spalding has brains, enormous ambition, and no conscience. He is a very dangerous man."

"Even so I don't see what harm he can do to Rutherford or Sally. By the way, I take it those two are engaged?"

"They are and, as you can see for yourself, are very fond of one another. I wish I could see them safely married."

"But why not? And once they are married King can no longer worry her."

Mrs Harcourt shook her head, "It is not as easy as that. Part of the story I can tell you but I don't know it all. Listen!

"Mat came out here six years ago with his brother, Andrew Rutherford. They bought Halleck between them. Andrew married and his wife, who was Ruth Vansittart from Boston, hated the West. Andrew was drowned in a cloud-burst and Ruth insisted on Mat buying her out. But all the money was in the ranch. The Rutherfords are not wealthy and Mat had very little capital. The poor boy was forced to raise money by mortgaging the property."

John nodded but did not speak. Mrs Harcourt went on.

"Mat got a loan of twenty-five thousand dollars from the First National Bank at Piegan. At the time he had no idea that Spalding owned the bank. Yet it was practically Spalding's private property. Mat got an ugly shock when Spalding suddenly demanded the repayment of the whole sum."

"When was this?" John asked.

"Rather more than a month ago. Just before poor Dandy died. Mat told Sally and myself about it."

"But not your husband?" Mrs Harcourt looked suddenly troubled.

"It would not have been any use to tell Dandy. Didn't Harry explain that Dandy had lost his memory?"

"I don't think he knew it." She bit her lip.

"That is possible. We did not correspond much," She paused again, then spoke in a very low voice, "Dandy drank, Mr Rundle. Neuritis started it and we could not stop him."

"I'm sorry," John said softly and then there was silence.

Mrs Harcourt broke it. "Mat had not the money and Spaulding knew it. Spalding then told Mat that he wished to buy Halleck outright. He offered fifty thousand dollars. But Halleck is worth much more and Mat flatly refused. He thought he could raise a fresh mortgage to pay off the loan, but so far he has not been able to do so." She paused once more but John did not speak. "I would have put up the money if I had had it," Mrs Harcourt told him, "but though this place gives us a good living, Sally and I have all we can do to pay the death duties." John spoke,

"Is there any special reason why Spalding should want Halleck?"

"That is what has puzzled us," she answered quickly. "The ranch is isolated and all Spalding's land is on the other side of Piegan. The only explanation we can think of is that there is mineral in the rocky stretch on the west side of Mat's land."


"It might be. There are other metals and minerals in this State. Mat was not interested in that sort of thing and the ground has never been prospected."

"Tell me," said John, "how long has Rutherford got before the mortgage is foreclosed?"

"The law here gives three months before the forced sale. So Mat has about six weeks' grace."

"Then there is only one thing to do," John said firmly. "I must get on the phone to Harry. I have no doubt he will put up the money when I tell him how good the security is."

A look of great relief crossed Mrs Harcourt's face. "I hoped you might say that. Then the sooner the better, Mr Rundle but you must not phone from Piegan. If you did it would certainly get to Spalding's ears."

"I'll go to El Paso. I have to fetch my suit case. No doubt Rutherford will give me a day.

"Of course he will," she began but John held up his hand.

"You're not to ask him, Mrs Harcourt. Remember Rutherford is not to know who I am—at least for the present."

She smiled. "I'll remember. And you can't imagine how grateful we are all going to be to you for settling our troubles."

"Nothing would make me happier than to earn your gratitude," John answered and something in his tone brought a faint colour to his hostess's smooth cheeks.

Rutherford's voice broke in. "Ten o'clock Rundle. Time to be moving. Are you ready?"

"Ready though I can't say I'm willing." John answered, and they all laughed.

The moon was high as the two drove back across the lovely, lonely land. Rutherford spoke.

"You got on with Mrs Harcourt, Rundle."

"She is a very charming woman," John said.

"You're right. And as brave as they make them. You've no idea what a time she has had the last year or two."

"Her husband, you mean?"

"That's what I mean. He was hopeless—poor chap—and she so patient and good with him. It was a relief to them both when he passed."

John waited a little before speaking again.

"I left some things at El Paso, Mr Rutherford. May I take a day to fetch them?"

"Of course. You can have the car to-morrow if you like. Another thing Rundle, You might drop the 'Mister.' I've been in England long enough to know a gentleman when I meet one."

"No need to visit England," replied John drily. "I've met half a dozen at Halleck."

"They're good boys," was all Rutherford said, but he was pleased, and so was John, and that began a very real friendship between the two men.

Early next morning John left for El Paso. Rutherford sent Sid with him.

"He knows the road," the latter explained. "And he'll show you how to get there without running through Piegan."

The two reached El Paso by nine, and John went straight to the telephone exchange and asked for his call. He anticipated a long wait, and was surprised to get through in less than two hours.

In as few words as possible he told Sir Harry what he had learned on the previous night from Mrs Harcourt.

"If you agree to put up five thousand pounds all will be well," he concluded. "I can give you my word the security is good." He heard a groan from the other.

"Put up five thousand! I could not raise five hundred."

"What do you mean? I don't understand."

"Haven't you heard about the Merton Main?"

"Not a word."

"There was an explosion last Tuesday, followed by fire. The whole colliery is ruined and so am I."


THE news staggered John. The Morton Main Colliery was the private property of the Harcourt family and he knew that Sir Harry had been drawing some seven thousand a year from it.

Sir Harry was speaking again.

"I'm afraid you'll have to come back John. I can't afford even your expenses."

"Don't bother about me," John answered. "I have a job which will more than keep me. It's you I'm worrying about."

"Don't! I'll pull through."

"Time is up. Do you wish an extension?" the operator's voice broke in.

"No," said John. "Good-bye, Harry. I'll write and give you all details." A click cut the connection and John, after pausing a moment to collect his thoughts, walked out into the street.

"Wal, I swan! Fancy meeting you here, Mr Rundle. This is a surprise." The speaker was Gregory Stone. John looked him over.

"For you perhaps—not for me," he answered drily and went quickly past.

Sid came to meet him. "Say," remarked the boy, "you look as if you'd lost a dollar and found a dime."

"I met that fat fellow Stone. That annoyed me. Silly, no doubt."

Sid scowled. "Snooping again. I'll bet King sent him. You'll have to watch out. They'll be laying for us."

Instead of answering John turned and hurried back to the Exchange. Sure enough, Stone was at the telephone. John returned to Sid.

"I shouldn't wonder if you were right, Kirby. We'd better go back at once. And I'll tell you what. We'll go back through Piegan."

"You're crazy."

"Not a bit. Don't you see it's the last thing they'll be expecting. Besides, I have to see Mrs Harcourt. I have a message for her."

Sid knew it was useless to argue with this obstinate Englishman. They collected the suit case, got into the car and drove off. Sid, John saw, had his gun ready but they cleared the town without seeing my more of Stone and, once on the open road, John put his foot down.

They swept through Piegan's empty street at great speed and came out the far side without incident, nor did anything happen during the rest of the drive.

It was just after twelve when they reached Tres Cruces. Now for the first time John saw the place in daylight and was able to appreciate fully its spacious beauty. The rich green of the irrigated lawn was refreshing after the glare of the sand, and the shade of the great cottonwoods which surrounded the house was equally pleasant.

Mrs Harcourt was sitting on the screened verandah, busy with some sewing. At sight of the car she got up quickly and came to the head of the steps.

"This is a surprise, Mr Rundle," she said as she shook hands. "I hardly hoped to see you so soon again. But come in. I think you have news, yet somehow I don't feel that it is good news."

"You are only too right," John answered gravely "My news is bad. There has been a fire in Harry's colliery. He has lost most of his income."

"Oh, the poor man!" she exclaimed.

"I'm very sorry for Harry," John went on, "but the immediate consequences are even more serious for us. Frankly, I don't know what to do."

"We must talk it over. Lunch is ready. If you would like to wash your hands there is a bathroom at the end of that passage."

"I have Sid with me," John told her.

"He has gone to the bunk-house. He will be well looked after. Our men like him."

Sally was in the hall when John returned. Her face showed trouble, but she greeted him warmly and poured him out a glass of excellent dry sherry. Then they went into the big cool dining-room.

Lunch was simple but perfect. It was a delightful contrast to the rough if plentiful, fare of the bunk-house.

"We'll have our coffee on the verandah," said his hostess, and led the way. "It will be cooler."

"Not much coolness anywhere to-day," John remarked.

Mrs Harcourt handed John his coffee. She looked at him gravely. "The wisest thing you could do would be to go straight home to England," she said.

"What—just as I'm getting interested!"

"Getting into danger," she returned. "Neck-deep in it."

"Not neck—about ankle deep."

"Do not quibble," said the lady. "You are in very real danger."

"I knew that King would enjoy scragging me," John admitted. "I'm sure he is quite unscrupulous. Yet if I ran away I shouldn't easily forgive myself especially—" he stopped short and looked at the two women.

Sally's eyes brightened; her mother flushed faintly.

"I told madre you were no quitter," cried Sally. "I have felt all along that you can and will help us. And anything we can do—well, you've only to ask."

"Thank you, Miss Harcourt!" She held up her hand.

"Sally—please!" and John laughed.

"Thank you again, Sally, And now to business."

"It's bad business," Sally said. "I don't see any way out."

"Don't be discouraged," John begged. "Right has always a double chance against wrong, and, so far as I can gather, King and his uncle are wrong 'uns."

"They're a couple of crooks," cried Sally "but it's up to us to prove that."

"Quite so," John agreed, "It's going to be my job to prove it. The first thing is to find out why they want Halleck."

"And what then?" Sally asked.

"If it's gold or oil then Rutherford has something to bargain with. He can raise the money he needs. If, on the other hand, it's for some criminal reason we can talk to the sheriff."

"Criminal?" questioned Sally with a shake of her pretty head.

"Yes," said John firmly, "I have been talking to the men. They tell me that goods are smuggled over the boarder from Mexico. Suppose that Spalding and King are interested in that sort of thing?"

"It might very well be," Sally answered, "but Halleck it useless from that point of view. The river is very deep along that stretch, the banks are high, there is no ford. Besides, the Federal authorities patrol the border. They use aeroplanes as well as mounted men."

"I know that," John said. "But isn't it possible that the fact that this stretch of river is dangerous might cause it to be neglected by the patrols? Anyhow, I mean to find out."

Mrs Harcourt spoke. "I don't like your idea, Mr Rundle. You don't know the country; you don't use a pistol—at least you don't carry one. It's dreadfully dangerous."

"Don't worry," John answered. "I'm old enough to be extremely cautious."

"Like you were at the Square Deal," scoffed Sally.

"I'm afraid I did get a bit cross," said John regretfully.

"I wonder what you'd do if you got really angry," Mrs Harcourt put in.

"I never do. I have really an excellent command of my temper. Besides I'm only going to snoop as Sid says. If I see anyone coming I shall hide or run away."

Sally laughed outright but her mother remained serious. At that moment Sid appeared on the verandah steps.

"Weather looks kind of funny, Rundle. Guess we better be moving."

John got up. "Right, Kirby. I'm ready."

"You will be careful," begged Mrs Harcourt as she shook hands.

"Caution personified," John promised.

"And come again soon," begged Sally.

"That's an order—not a request," John told her. He stepped quickly into the car, turned, waved his hand and drove off.

He glanced at the sky as soon as he reached the road and realised that Sid's description of the weather was not exaggerated.

"Thunder," said John.

"Hail," replied Sid, briefly. John accelerated.

Ahead was a slight rise where the ridge of rock, so that on each side of road had bean cut through a narrow the track there was a steep bank five or six feet high. The car was within fifty yards of this spot when Sid yelled.

"Watch out! Something across the road!"

John saw it. It was a rope or wire—he couldn't tell which—stretched tightly from one bank to the other.

In a flash he realised two things, first that it was meant to stop the car, no doubt for the benefit of a gunman hidden in the brush close by; secondly that the barrier was below the level of the bonnet. Instead of braking he put his right foot down and sent the car leaping at the obstacle.


"IT'S wire," John muttered between set lips, but it was too late to stop now. The car hit the tightly stretched cable with tremendous force. John was conscious of some weighty object flying across his line of vision in a wide arc, and of a piercing scream. Then the car shot over the top of the little rise and instantly John declutched and braked.

"Tore the post plumb out of the ground!" gasped Sid. "I'll tell a man you took chances."

"Better take the chance of a smash than of a bullet," John answered as he brought the car to a standstill and jumped out.

"What you going to do," demanded Sid.

"I'm going to see how dead he is," John answered.

"He was alive enough to yell," Sid said. "You got any sense you'll leave him lie and come along home. Anyway there'll be more than one of 'em. Wander is we ain't been shot at yet."

"That goes to prove the fellow was alone. Anyway I'm taking the chance, Sid. If anything happens you can drive the car back."

Whatever answer Sid made was drowned by a brilliant flash followed by a most astonishing crack of thunder. Before the echoes had ceased John was back at the spot where the wire had barred the rood.

A man lay flat on his back among the stunted sage brush. A swarthy-faced fellow who looked as if he might be half Mex, half Indian, and no credit to either race. His pistol lay on the ground beside him. John glanced quickly round to see if anyone else was on the spot but the only person near was Sid. Sid, with an oddly grim expression on his youthful face and his gun to his right hand was clearly ready for any emergency.

John stooped over the fallen man and found that he was still breathing. His left arm was broken and he seemed to be insensible. Probably some of his ribs were gone as well as his arm, for the force with which the broken post had struck him must have been tremendous.

"Leave him be," asked Sid for the second time, but John shook his head.

"I've a notion he might give us quite a lot of useful information, Sid. Help me put him in the car."

Sid was not pleased but by this time he knew it was useless to argue, once John had made up his mind. He took the man's legs and John his shoulders and they carried him to the car. As they reached it there came a second blaze of electric fire, a second crash like that of a heavy gun and this was followed by a drumming roar.

"Hurry," cried Sid urgently and between them they dumped the wounded man into the back and they themselves scrambled into the front seats. As Sid banged the door the hail caught them.

The roar was deafening; the stoutly built car quivered under the impact of bullets of ice which fell so thickly that it was impossible to see even the sides of the road.

It did not last long. Within five minutes the hail had turned to rain but now everything was white and ice pellets lay inches deep on the road. John waited a few minutes till the rain had washed the slush off the windscreen then started up his engine and drove on.

By the time they reached the ranch the sun was shining again. The storm had gone flashing and roaring down into the distant Mexican mountains.

Bat Harrigan came out of the horse corral as they drove up. His eyes widened slightly as he saw their passenger.

"Where in hell did you catch that thing, Rundle?" he inquired.

"He came pretty near catching us," John answered with a smile and went on to tell briefly what had happened.

"You was lucky," said Bat briefly. "What you reckon to do with the feller?"

"Keep him till he can talk. Have you any idea who he is?"

"Never seed him before."

"But I have," said Wolf Ryan who had come up. "I've seed him over to the S.A.D. Juarez his name is, but they call him Lopear."

"Not a bad name," John allowed. "His ears bend outwards like a lop-eared rabbit's. Can I keep him Bat?"

"Got to ask the boss," said Bat. "He's in the house."

John nodded, and went to the house. He met Rutherford at the door and told his story a second time.

Rutherford shrugged. "I warned you, Rundle. You're lucky to be alive."

"So is Lopear," John answered drily. "May I keep him till he can talk? I feel sure he can supply some useful information."

"Maybe he can but I'll bet he won't. Keep him if you like. Put him in the root cellar There's a good lock on the door. And come in after supper, will you?"

"I'll come," said John. He understood quite well why Rutherford did not ask him to share his evening meal. Rutherford did not wish to cause jealousy or curiosity by treating him differently from the rest of the men.

The root cellar was under the house. There was little there except potatoes and plenty of room for a cot. With Bat's help John set Lapear's arm. It was only a simple fracture. The man's side was badly bruised but his ribs appeared to be sound. He had come to his senses but remained sullen. They gave him some food and left him securely locked up.

Sid, of course had given the other men a full account of the ambush and had not spared to praise John for his presence of mind in crashing the barrier. John's stock was high in the bunk-house.

A marvellous sunset, all scarlet and gold, stained the eastern sky as John walked up to where Rutherford was sitting on the screened verandah.

"What about the eastern side of your property, Rutherford? Is there any place there where a plane might land?" John asked.

"What's bitting you now, Rundle?"

"Never mind—tell me."

"Not a hope. It's a tangle of deep canyons. As for planes, the only ones we ever see are those belonging to the Border Patrol, and certainly their pilots wouldn't be crazy enough to try to land anywhere in such country."

"Here's another question—are there any minerals in those rocks?"

"You can get colour of gold in many of these streams."

"Yet there must be some reason why Spalding wants this place."

"As a ranch, it's cheap at what he offered. I've just had another letter from him. He will pay 60,000 dollars. I've a mind to take it. I could start somewhere else."

"Do you think Miss Harcourt would approve?" John asked quietly.

"Damn it! Of course, she wouldn't!" exclaimed the other in sharp irritation.

"I think she's right," John said. "Listen, Rutherford! I have about two thousand pounds. I'll put that up towards paying the mortgage if it's any help."

"You mean that?" Rutherford asked, starring.

"I shouldn't have said it if I hadn't."

"I know you were white from the first minute I set eyes on you," Rutherford declared. "But it's not enough. I need five thousand pounds."

"Have you no other friends who would help?"

"None I could ask."

"Than we have to beat Spalding and Co., at their own game."

"I don't get you, Rundle."

"Find out, I mean, what is behind Spalding's anxiety to own Halleck. I'm convinced It's something crooked."

"They're crooks all right—both he and King. But how are you going to prove it?"

"We start with Lopear."

"I wish I were as confident as you."

"Go to bed and sleep on it. You'll feel better in the morning," said John as he got up.

Stars were brilliant as John walked back to the bunk-house, and the air was deliciously fresh. A lovely evening for a stroll, but John was tired and turned in at once. With ranchmen nine is bedtime and they rise at five. By half-past nine John was sound asleep.

A sharp report roused him. He sat up and instantly there came half-a-dozen shots in rapid succession.

"What the hell!" he heard Harrigan growl. Then he and the others were thrusting their feet into their trousers. In a matter of moments all six were outside.

"The ricks! God Almighty! They're firing the ricks!" The speaker was Larry Ryan, and as he spoke, he pointed to a red glare down towards the creek where the alfalfa had been stacked.

"Get buckets!" roared Bat. "And don't forgot your guns."

John ran with the rest. He outran them for cowboys are never much good afoot. There were four ricks. One was afire, but the blaze was already dying down. The hay was still soaked from the storm of the afternoon.

As he got near he smelt petrol. He pulled up short.

"False alarm!" he shouted. "Get back to the house."

Bat heard him. "Larry, you and Mart tend to the fire," he ordered. "Rest of you come back to the house."

Again John raced ahead. He made straight for the door of the root cellar. The moment he reached it he saw he was too late. It was open.

Lopear had gone.


JOHN rode slowly along the north bank of the Grande. He had risen early this Sunday morning, and ridden off before the rest were out of bed. He had food, water, and a useful pair of field glasses.

In its upper reaches the Rio Grande is usually wide and shallow, but here its breadth was no more than two hundred yards. The dark water ran swiftly between banks of broken rock, and surface swirled in muddy eddies. To the south, the Mexican side, rose low scrub-covered hills; to the north were terraced cliffs cut and carved by the storms of centuries. Between the cliffs and the river was a narrow stretch of level ground.

The further John rode, the more grim and lonely became his surroundings, and the more he wondered what possible object Spalding could have in coveting this dreary land. Yet the secret, whatever it was, must be found, and John had made up his mind to discover it. That would be the only way of saving Halleck for Rutherford and Sally.

He pushed on and, after another couple of miles, reached the mouth of the stream which he knew to be Black Creek. This came down to the Grande through a narrow canyon. The water was curiously dark in colour. Broken cliffs rose on either side to a height of two or three hundred feet. The river did not flow through the centre of the canyon but clung closely to the far wall where it ran black and deep. On the near, the Western side, was a belt of sand and shingle along which riding was easy.

John turned his horse up the canyon. It was lonely and deserted. To John it seemed as if it had been so since the beginning of time. For all that he constantly scanned the cliff on either side. The canyon curved snake-like, and at each curve John pulled up and used his glasses. He saw nothing but a pair of goats high on a ledge, and a couple of buzzards, black specks against the dusty blue.

He watched the ground, too, and presently was rewarded. Close to a flat rock he spotted the stub of a cigarette, of black Mexican tobacco, wrapped in corn silk. Here was definite evidence that someone had been here before him recently, too.

He rounded a third curve and saw to his left the mouth of a cross canyon. Just beyond an immense fall of rock from the cliff to the left made a barrier which reached from the cliff to the river. It might be possible to climb it, afoot, but for a horse there was no passage.

John was minded to turn back. It was the thought of that cigarette end which checked him. The man who had dropped it must have had some purpose in coming here. He had either climbed the rocks and gone up the main canyon or had turned up the side one.

John looked at this side canyon. The floor was covered with broken rock and boulders which had fallen from above. It was no place to risk a horse, not even the cat-footed Sturdy. He dismounted, led the animal into a shady spot close under the cliff and ground-hitched him.

He went into the side canyon and searched for foot marks. Unable to find a trace he decided to climb the great rock fall.

The climb was not difficult but risky because so many of the rocks were ill-balanced. He had to test each foot and hand hold before trusting his weight on the next. All went well, and presently he reached the top and peered over. Now he could see down into the main canyon so far as the next bend, and had a view of most of the cliffs as well. Opposite, the canyon wall was sheer precipice, but on the left side the cliffs were broken. Near the summit was a broad ledge with dark openings, evidently the mouths of caves.

Lower down was another ledge and, as John's eyes roved along it, the sunlight, which had now reached this western wall, was reflected by this western wall, was reflected by something which gave back a small flash.

John flattened behind a boulder and used his glasses. The flush came again, and John saw that it was caused by the blade of a knife. A man was siting in a niche with his back against the cliff. He had a plug of tobacco in one hand and was shredding a fill for his pipe. With his powerful glasses John was able to see that he was no Mexican but a white man, a tough man, wearing only shirt, trousers, and sandals. It was clear to John that he was a sentry posted to keep an eye on the canyon.

John thought of what he had heard about the smuggling traffic across the border, and could not help feeling slightly elated, for it seemed that now he knew the reason why Spalding wanted to buy Tres Cruces.

The man whom he was watching lit his pipe and sat back comfortably. John put away his glasses, turned cautiously, wriggled away and climbing carefully back down the fall. His one idea now was to get back with his news. It would interest not only Rutherford, but Homer Webb, the sheriff.

On his way up the canyon his feeling had been just curiosity; now he was beginning to grow nervous. If there was one sentry there might be another. Since, however, he had not been challenged on the way up, he did not think this likely. But as he reached the cross-canyon he got a shock. His horse had disappeared.


JOHN had learned that a well-trained horse, as Sturdy was, will never run off when ground-hitched. Therefore it was certain that someone had ridden it away or else hung the reins back over its neck, given it a cut on the flank and sent it galloping off home.

There must then have been another sentry somewhere between the mouth of the canyon and the big rock slide. John felt a shiver run down his spine at the thought that this man must have had him under the muzzle of his rifle. He wondered why the man had not shot him. He could not have had a better opportunity.

"I'll have to wait till dark," he thought. "Even then the odds are they'll be laying for me."

The idea of this long wait did not appeal to him. For one thing his food for the day had been in his saddle bags. He was already hungry and thirsty.

He locked up the cross canyon. The floor was dry, yet it was just possible there might be a water-hole further up. Better, there might be a way up the cliff, and if he could reach the mesa he could probably find his way back to the ranch.

He did not find water, but he did find what looked like a way up. Actually it was one of the paths made by the old cliff dwellers. It was horribly steep, and many of the steps so worn by weather that they had almost disappeared.

John was no mountaineer, and more than once was almost defeated. The knowledge that this was the only way out of his ugly fix braced him and, after a highly unpleasant quarter of an hour, he dragged himself on to a narrow ledge not more than 30 feet from the summit.

Here he paused and looked up. His heart sank, for, above him were no more steps. He was marooned on this narrow ledge.

The sun was already on the ledge and the heat terrific. The hard climb had made John so thirsty that he doubted if he could hold out till night in any case he did not think he could possibly manage the descent in darkness. It began to look as if the only thing to do was to climb down at once and make his way on up the canyon.

A slight sound from below came to his ears. He looked over. A man carrying a rifle was prowling along close under the cliff. John shrank back, hoping devoutly that the fellow could not see him.

He heard another sound. This, much closer. A dry rustling. Glancing round, he saw a rattlesnake emerging from a deep crevice at the back of the ledge. Its lidless eyes gleamed like evil jewels in the strong light. John had a horror of snakes. He drew away. Instantly the reptile recoiled, and its tail, vibrating furiously, made its rattle sound loudly.

John knew that the strike of a rattlesnake was swift as lightning. His right hand was actually resting on a heavy stone. Without an instant's hesitation his fingers closed on it, and he hurled it with all his force at the snake. The stone struck it full, and snake and stone together went ever the rim of the ledge. From below came a yell of surprise and terror, then a volley of shots made echoes bellow up and down the canyon.

"And that's done it," said John in a voice which, in spite of himself, was not quite steady.

"Not if you're quick," came a low call from above, and with it a rope snaked down and lay across the ledge.

"Loop it around you. We'll do the pulling." John did not waste an instant in obeying.

It was not much fun being pulled up a steep rock face at the end of a rope, but John did not give a thought to the discomfort, and reached the top safely with nothing but a few bruises and scratches.

He stared. By the way in which his twelve stone had been lifted he had expected to see at least three men. He saw one man and a horse. The man was Homer Webb, the horse a powerful buckskin. The rope was around the cantle of the horse's saddle. A ghost of a smile crossed the sheriff's square face.

"Baldy did the job," he remarked. "Best come well back from the rim. That fellow is gunning for you. If he hadn't have wasted six cartridges on a dead rattler he'd likely have got you."

Both men drew back from the verge. Webb took a cantine from the saddle and handed it to John. It was the best drink he had ever swallowed.

"Thanks!" he said, as he handed back the cantine. "It's thirsty work climbing cliffs in this climate."

"You done a right smart lot of it this morning. Did you see anything from the top yonder?" He pointed to the rock fall opposite.

"A second look-out," John answered. "So you were watching all the time?"

"I got here just as you started up the opposite side."

"Did you see what became of my horse?"

"I didn't look over into the main canyon—didn't want to be seen," the sheriff replied.

"Then you are on the same job as myself," said John quickly. Webb smiled slightly.

"Reckon I've been on it longer than you, Rundle. But I'd like to know where you come in on this business."

John looked at his companion. Webb's steady eyes gave a sense of security, and John decided to trust him.

"I'm here to help Sally Harcourt," he said. "I was sent out by Dandy Harcourt's brother. You know that Sally is engaged to Rutherford?"

"I reckon we all know that," replied the sheriff.

"Do you know about their trouble?" John asked bluntly.

"Can't say I know much, but I've heard something, and I suspicion more."

"I'd like to tell you," John said. "I need advice." Webb looked round.

"Sun's kind of hot," he observed in his slow drawl. "Might be a good notion to find a patch of shade afore we talk."

He started across the mesa in a westerly direction, and the buckskin followed like a dog. Half a mile away they came to a pinnacle of weather-worn rock, on the far side of which a projecting slab gave welcome shade. Here they sat, and John told the whole story. Webb listened with quite attention. When John had finished he nodded.

"I always allowed you Britishers had guts," he remarked, "but I wouldn't say you had a heap of discretion. You're mighty lucky to be alive, Mr Rundle."

"You mean that first man might have shot me?"

"You certainly asked for it." John was a little nettled.

"I'm still alive, and I've found something. There must be smuggling going on. The fact that the canyon is guarded makes that certain."

"That's what I been thinking a long time past. But there's one objection—and it's a mighty big one. That canyon's blind."

"Blind?" John repeated.

"That's what I said. It ends in a wall of rock a squirrel couldn't climb. The river comes out of a hole at the bottom in a solid spout of white water."

"But there are side canyons," John objected.

"Five of them—and not one that's any use to smugglers." Webb paused.

"I've lived in this country all my life, Mr Rundle. I've ridden all over it. I'll allow there's something funny afoot—but what it is beats me."


FOR a time the silence was broken only by the sound of Baldy's jaws as he munched a mouthful of tough desert grass. John was the first to speak.

"But the sentries, sheriff. Spalding wouldn't pay men to watch anyone if there was nothing doing. I take it they're his men."

"I wish I knew," Webb said, frowning. "There's funny things going on in this country."

"I've heard of cattle stealing and train and bank robberies," John said.

"I've known troubles of that sort all my life. I can deal with them. There's worse things happening now."

"Feel like telling me?" John asked at last. The sheriff stared thoughtfully at John, and John knew he was being sized up.

"A man in my place," said the sheriff, "keeps most of what he knows under his hat. He wouldn't hold his job very long if he didn't. But I reckon to know a man when I see one, and maybe you and I could work together."

"There's nothing I would like better," John answered promptly "I am green to the country. I want help and you can give me it better than anyone else."

"I reckon that's true, but before I talk I'd like to know just what you've found out since you've been here."

"That's fair," John agreed. "I'll tell you all I can and be glad to have your opinion."

"Sir Harry Harcourt, Dandy's brother, is my friend. He had a letter from Sally saying there was trouble and asking him to come out. But Lady Harcourt is an invalid. He could not leave her so asked me to go, he is paying my expenses. I can't say I enjoyed the prospect, but I could not refuse.

"In the bus from El Paso I fell in with Sid Kirby and through him got a job at Halleck. I understand tractors. I thought this would be better than going straight to Tres Cruces, and I didn't tell Rutherford who I was or why I had come. You think I was right?"

"I surely do," replied Webb gravely.

"I went to Piegan and ran into King. He trod on my foot and refused to apologise, and I daresay you heard what happened."

A ghost of a smile parted the sheriff's lip. "You bet I heard. Everyone in Piegan heard. It's the first time anyone has ever got the better of Charles King, and he'll never forget or forgive it."

"I've had evidence of that," John said. He told Webb of the Lopear episode, then went on to explain the fix in which Mat Rutherford found himself, the reason why Sir Harry could not help and the urgent need for haste if Halleck was to be saved.

"So you see," he continued, "my hope is to discover why Spalding wants Halleck. My guess was that it had something to do with smuggling and when I spotted that first sentry I felt sure I had hit the nail on the head, yet if you are right about the canyon being blind it looks as if I had to start all over again. But I should start on the same lines—that Spalding has some crooked motive behind his desire for Halleck."

"Spalding's a crook all right. I've suspected him for years but never been able to get anything on him. He knows I suspect him and has tried every dirty trick to get me out of office. Once he does that and puts one of his own men in he owns the country and no decent man will be able to live here."

"Tell me shout Spalding," John asked. "I've never seen him. How long has he been here?"

"Twelve years. He came in '27, the year we had the big hailstorm. He bought the Square Deal from Carver, made money and soon got his finger in every pie. He bought up land and got hold of the bank—King joined him in '29."

"King is a German," John said, "so Spalding must be German."

"He calls himself English. Says he lived in London. Speaks like as Englishman."

"What age is he?"

"Along about fifty. Maybe more, but he takes care of himself. He's good-looking, dresses well, and got a way with him. He'd pass anywhere."

"Then he isn't King's uncle. King, indeed! If his name isn't Karl König I'll eat my hat! But to get back to Spalding. You spoke of unusual crimes, sheriff. What are they—and do you connect him with them?"

"I'm bound to connect him with them. They've all started since he came." He paused and turned to John, "Mr Rundle, do you know what is the rarest crime in the West?"

"I have not an idea."

"Suicide. Men who live in the open may quarrel and kill one mother, but they don't kill themselves. Yet there have been four suicides around here in the pest three years. And every one of them decent, hard-working men. What do yon make of that?"

"Blackmail," John suggested. The sheriff pounded his open palm with a huge fist.

"My idea, exactly. These men were either forced into debt, and so harried that they took their lives, or some secret in their past was dug up and held over them. Then there have been murders. Three I know of. All shot in the back. These, too, were white men, but, try as I might, I've never been able to find who killed them. You can't get anyone to give evidence. They're scared." John frowned.

"But what's the object of all this?"

"To drive the decent folk out of this county and make room for more and more of Spalding's gang. As I've told you, he's out for complete control."

John nodded. "Then that might explain his anxiety to get rid of Rutherford."

"Sure thing! It's the votes of Rutherford and men like him that keep me in my job. I don't want to boast but I'll say that, if I go, Piegan county will be a little hell!"

"I wonder they haven't tried a potshot at you sheriff," John remarked.

"There's only one reason against it. They know the Governor is my good friend. If I was bumped off he'd put Hoover and his G-men on the job. That's the one thing Spalding is scared of."

John thought a moment. "Tell me sheriff—if we could prove that Spalding was doing anything in the line of smuggling, wouldn't that bring in the Federal authorities?"

"It surely would. But don't you get that bee in your bonnet, Mr Rundle. Spalding has plenty of money, and it ain't likely he'd take chances with the Federal authorities."

John wasn't convinced. Though he had every respect for the sheriff's opinion, the posting of those sentries stuck in his mental gizzard. They must be there for some purpose, and if Spalding had posted them—." He got so far when Webb made a sudden move. In a flash he had a heavy pistol gripped in his right hand.

"Baldy!" he whispered. "He's seen something."

Baldy's head was up, his ears were pricked forward.

"They say horses can't see far," the Sheriff said in the same low voice. "But Baldy's good as a dog. It might be that sentry fellow knows some way up to the mesa. You stay right here while I have a look see."

Keeping close under the rock, Webb moved cautiously out. He had hardly left the shelter of the overhanging edge when there came the heavy flat crack of a rifle. The sheriff went flat on his face.


SUCH a flame of anger as John had never known sent a shiver through him. Yet anger did not deprive him of his wits. He got up swiftly, took the sheriff's rifle from its holster on Baldy's saddle, and started round the butte. But not in the direction Webb had gone. John went the other way.

He had no feeling of fear. His one idea was to avenge Webb's death. Every nerve was taut and he moved silently.

The butte was roughly circular and some hundred paces across. As he came near the eastern side John went down on his knees. The rifle was a Winchester, .380 calibre. John had never used a Winchester, but he knew rifles and was a marksman. He opened the breech to see there was a cartridge in the chamber, then crawled forward. A fallen boulder gave him cover. He reached it, took off his hat and peered cautiously over it.

There was the man. Like John he had taken cover behind a rock and lay with the rifle at his shoulder. He was not more than two hundred yards sway. In the strong sunlight John could see him plainly, for the rock failed to cover him from this angle, and John could realise that he was watching the sheriff's body and waiting for John to come out of hiding and pick him up.

John took careful aim. It was the first time he had ever fired at a human target yet he was as cool as if he had been sighting for the bull on his home range in England. He squeezed the trigger. As the report rang out the murderer's body jerked and rolled over. The rifle fell from its nerveless hands.

"Right through the head," said John. He felt no remorse, nothing but a fierce delight that he had avenged the sheriff's death.

The feeling did not last. As he came to his feet his thoughts flashed back to Webb, and he knew how much he had been depending upon him for help in the struggle against Spalding. Now all he could do was to pack his dead body back to Piegan.

He walked back to the overhang at the west side of the butte and pulled up short. There was Webb sitting in the shade with his back against the rock. There was blood on his face, but he was very much alive.

"As pretty a shot as ever I saw in my life," he said in his deep voice. "You'll do to tie to, Rundle."

John was not aware that Webb had paid him the greatest complement that any western man can pay to another.

Webb chuckled, "Don't look so amazed. I ain't hurt though I'll allow it was too close to be pleasant. Bullet just nicked the top of my left ear. I had to fall flat so he'd think I was dead and not try another shot. Only thing that bothered me was that you'd come running out. But I see I needn't have worried." He rose to his feet, "There's plaster in my saddle bag. A bit o' that'll stop the bleeding, then we'll have a look at the body."

The body was not a pretty sight. The bullet had caught the man in the side of the head and blown away the top of his skull. Webb shook his head.

"Never seed him before," he remarked, and, kneeling down, began to go through his pockets. A knife, a plug of tobacco, a pipe, matches, a pencil, a dirty bill-fold, and a still dirtier handkerchief were their full contents. But the man's rifle and pistols were of good quality and there was plenty of ammunition. Webb examined the bill-fold. Three five-dollar bills and a small piece of paper with figures scribbled in pencil. "Dates and times for him to be on duty—looks like," was all Webb said.

"What about the body? Do we take it in?" John asked.

The sheriff shook his head. "In course of law I'd ought to. But it 'ud mean an inquest and a lot of publicity. We don't want that." He walked to the edge of the bluff and looked over. "There's a grave right handy," he went on, and John, coming up beside him, saw a deep cleft immediately beneath them.

"Save him from the buzzards and that's all he's got a right to expect," Webb remarked. Between them they lifted the body, dropped it into the cleft, rolled some big stones on top of it, then returned to the butte.

"You hungry, Rundle?" the sheriff asked, and John noticed that he had omitted the "Mister."

"Come to think of it, I am," and answered with a smile.

"Reckon I got enough for two," Webb told him as he fished out a fat packet of sandwiches from his saddle bag.

As he finished them, John said, "If you're ready, we'd best push along. If my horse has gone some of them may be worrying."

"It's quite a walk," said Webb doubtfully.

"That won't hurt me," John told him. "I'm good for twenty miles if need be. You ride and I'll keep along side."

John was not boasting and Webb who, like most western men, never walked a yard if he could ride, was surprised at the way in which the tall Englishman strode along under the blazing sun. But John had quite enough of it by the time they sighted the ranch.

A man came galloping towards them.

"It's Sid," said the sheriff. "Looks as if he was kind of peeved." There was no doubt of that.

"Right nice way to spend Sunday!" Sid snapped. "Sneaking off without word and turning your horse loose to come back alone. Matt's in a sweet state. Lucky for you as you met the sheriff."

"And lucky for the sheriff as he met Rundle," Webb answered.

Sid's bright eyes turned from one man to the other.

"Maybe Rundle'll tell you," said the sheriff unkindly. "I got to get home." He turned to John, "So long Rundle. Come and see me some time." Then he rode away. Sid scowled.

"Now I don't reckon I'll ever hear."

"Cheer up," John said. "I'll tell you if you let me ride your horse and you walk back."

It was a good mile to the ranch but Sid did not hesitate. He was out of the saddle like a shot and John thankfully took his place. He let the horse walk and, before they reached the bunk-house Sid was in possession of the day's doings. His eyes shone.

"Doggone!" he muttered. "And you ain't been here much more'n a week." He considered. "You reckon these fellows was guards?"

"What else were they there for?" John asked. "Yet Webb vows that's a blind canyon."

"I'll lay there's some way out. Say! You and I'll take a little run up there and have a look see." John shook his head.

"I've promised Webb not to go up the canyon."

Sid was annoyed.

"Then how the hell are we going to find anything?"

"I'll have to think that over, Sid; but I assure you I mean to find out a whole lot."

"And you'll let me in on it, Mister," Sid said anxiously.

"We'll have to talk to your boss about that. Hulloa!—whose car is that coming up from the gate?" A big eight-cylinder was gliding up towards the house. Sid looked at the car and scowled.

"Spalding's," he answered. "Come to worry the boss, I'll lay. I wish it had been his head you'd put that bullet through, Rundle."

"That may be your job, Sid," John replied equably. "But, see here! I've never yet set eyes on the fellow. Can I do it without his spotting me?"

"I reckon," said Sid; "but you'll have to be careful. I wouldn't wonder if he'd come out here on purpose to meet you. After what you did to King, Spalding'll be keeping you in mind." He paused and considered. "Listen! None of 'em knows as you're back. If you was to climb up into the loft over the garage you can see all as is going on, and no one won't know you're there."

"That's a good notion. And if he asks for me you can tell him my horse came back without me." Sid chuckled.

"You bet!" he agreed. "Now you stop here behind these ricks and wait till Spalding's in the house. Then you can slip along without his seeing you."

It all worked out, and John found himself safe in the loft, from the window of which he had a perfect view of the house. There he sat and smoked his pipe and waited until at last Spalding come out of the front door with Rutherford.

Spalding was tall and well set up. He wore a suit of pale grey flannel, which certainly had not been made in New Mexico or anywhere nearer than New York. Beneath his Panama hat his dark hair was just beginning to grizzle.

It was not until he reached the bottom of the verandah steps and turned to shake hands with Rutherford that John was able to see his face. John was conscious of a curious half-sick feeling as he stared at features which were to him hideously familiar. Despite all the years that had passed since he had last seen this man, he recognised him instantly. For Spalding was no other than Douglas Sherbourne, his own stepfather.


THOUGHTS raced through John's head at a pace that made him dizzy. Recollection of all that his mother and he had suffered at the hands of this blackguard made a mist rise across his eyes and caused his fists to clench so that the nails dug into the palms.

The first question that came to him was whether Spalding knew of his—John's—identity. He cursed himself for not having taken another name before arriving in America. He could only hope that Spalding would not connect the lanky boy of 20 years ago with the tall, powerful man that John was to-day. On the other hand he could not be sure and, if Spalding did know, the fat was in the fire. At all costs, Spalding would have to close his mouth.

It occurred to him that Spalding's real reason for visiting Halleck had been to get sight of him and he thanked his stars that the man had been disappointed. Whatever Spalding's suspicions, he could not be sure until he had actually set eyes on his stepson.

John watched Spalding drive away and suddenly felt that the one person with whom he wanted to consult was Mrs Harcourt. He went down, found Sid and asked for the loan of his horse. Sid, who would not have lent his mount to any other man on the place, agreed at once, so, waiting only long enough to have a wash and change his clothes, John rode away to Tres Cruces.

The heat was intense and, before he had covered half the distance, John began to be aware that he was very tired. He had been going all day on nothing but a few sandwiches and had walked a very long distance over every rough country. By the time he reached the Harcourt ranch he was almost all in.

Mrs Harcourt was sitting on the screened verandah and came to the steps to meet him. Her smile of welcome changed to a look of sharp anxiety.

"You are hurt, Mr Rundle?" she said quickly.

"Not a bit!" John assured her, but all the same he staggered slightly as he slipped out of the saddle. "It's the sun," he added, "not accustomed to it." She took his arm and steadied him and he thrilled to her touch.

"Sun indeed. You are all in. Sit on the steps and I'll bring you a drink." She ran into the house, light-footed as a girl, and was back in a moment with a glass of good Scotch whisky diluted with ice water. He drained it thankfully, and the colour came back to his face.

"That just about saved my life," he said with a laugh. "Now I'll tie my horse in the shade. I've a lot to tell you."

"You won't talk till you have had something to eat," she told him. "And never mind your horse. I'll see to him." She loosened the halter rope and tied the horse under one of the big umbrella trees, then led the way into the cool, shaded drawing room where Chang, the Chinese cook, was setting out tea. John, lying back in a long cane chair, drank delicious tea, ate hot buttered scones and felt entirety relaxed and happy.

"Where is Sally?" he asked presently.

"Lying down, She has a headache. Very unusual, but she would stay out in the sun this morning."

"I'm sorry," said John, "yet glad of the chance to talk to you alone. Things have been happening to-day."

"Tell me," she said, leaning forward.

John gave an account of his adventures up the canyon of Black Creek, ending with the killing of the man who had shot at Webb.

"So you saved Webb's life and perhaps your own, Splendid!" Her eyes glowed and a flush rose to her cheeks.

"You are not shocked?" John asked doubtfully.

"Is one shocked when someone shoots off the head of a rattlesnake? Don't be foolish, Mr Rundle. Remember I am an American. My grandfather fought in the Civil War; my father was a soldier."

"Yes. Colonel Abercrombie was in the Texas Rangers."

"He was but how did you know that?"

"I like to know about people I like," John answered simply. "And Sid is a reservoir of information that only needs tapping." Her colour rose again and once more John decided that Norma Harcourt was the most beautiful as well as the most charming woman he had ever met. He spoke quickly.

"Tell me, Mrs Harcourt, what do you think of my discoveries? Am I right, or is Webb?"

"About the sentries, you mean?"

"About the sentries. Surely no one is going to keep men guarding a desolate canyon unless there is something there worth guarding. Spalding or whoever put men there could not have been expecting an attack from Mexico, could he?"

"That doesn't seem possible unless he was guarding something of value hidden in the caves."

"Something of value. But that could only be smuggled goods, and Webb vows that Spalding would not meddle with such traffic for fear of the Federal authorities. Myself," John addled slowly, "I'm not so sure. I think Spalding would take big risks for money."

"You speak as if you knew him."

"I do—to my coat. He is my stepfather." Mrs Harcourt sat quite still gazing at John.

"Your stepfather!" she said presently. "I don't understand."

"It is simple enough," John answered with a touch of bitterness. "My own father died when I was a small boy, and this man, who then called himself Sherborne, got hold of my mother, married her, and for years made her life a hell. One day, when I was seventeen, he went beyond all bounds. I knocked him down. He fell against a table, and was stunned. I took my mother out of the room and, when I came back, he had left the house. I never saw him again until to-day."

"When did you see him to-day?"

"At Halleck. He did not see me."

"But he will have heard your name. He must know who you are."

"He may suspect. He can't be sure until he has seen me."

"He will know. I feel certain that he will know. That man has spies everywhere. He is aware of everything that goes on for many miles round. Mr Rundle, you are in even worse danger than I thought." Her face showed her distress and John felt a thrill—half delight—that she would care so much.

"He can't be sure," he repeated. "You see, I have changed quite a lot in the past twenty years. I must he careful to keep out of his sight until I have evidence against him."

"What evidence can you possibly get? You hare promised the sheriff that you will not again visit the canyon."

"I have promised him not to go up it. There is nothing to prevent my visiting the upper end."

"It is dreadful country, Mr Rundle. You would never find your way."

"That is one reason why I came to consult you. I thought you might know of a guide."

"A guide!" she hesitated and bit her lip.

"Ah, you do know of one," said John with unusual eagerness.

"I do—if he would go. But—but even so, it would he a desperate risk. Give it up, Mr Rundle. Leave this country and go home. If you went on this journey and did not come back I should never again know a peaceful moment."

John's face hardened. "And what should I feel if I left my friends to the mercy of a man like Sherborne? And what would you yourself think of me if I deserted you now and left you in the lurch?" He waited for an answer but got none.

"Please don't worry," he begged. "I shall be very careful—if not for my own sake—for yours. Now tell me about the guide."

"The man is Dr. Kent. His hobby is the Cliff Dwellers and he spends all his spare time exploring. He knows a great deal of that Black Creek country."

"The very man!" John declared. "But tell me. What does he think of Sherborne?"

"Much the same as you do, I imagine."

"Better and better! I must see him as soon as possible. I wonder if I could find him this evening."

"You will do nothing of the sort," said the lady firmly. "It's a very long ride to Piegan and you are tired out. You will stay here for an early supper, ride home before dark, and go to bed."

"Very well! But I don't know what Rutherford will think if I demand another day off to-morrow."

"Hadn't you better tell him all about it?"

"If I do he will insist on coming with me, and that's the last thing I want."

She nodded. "I understand. But all the same I am not happy."

"We are none of us happy at present, and shan't be until I get what Sid calls the goods on my stepfather. By the bye, did I tell you he was German?"

"German?" repeated Norma Harcourt.

"Definitely. His real name is Schöneborn, but he changed it by deed poll. As for that precious nephew of his, he, of course, is Karl König."

"German," she said. "This is worst than I had thought."


TO John's surprise, Rutherford made no objection to his taking more time off. What he did object to was the idea of John going alone to Piegan.

"You got off safely last time," he said. "You might not be no lucky again. If you'll wait till the afternoon I'll drive you in."

"Then you are taking chances," John said bluntly.

"No. I'm safe enough for the present. Spalding still thinks I may sell."

"He didn't get much out of you."

"I rather thought be would," John answered.

Rutherford frowned. "I don't know what you are trying to do, Rundle. Do you feel like telling me?"

"Not yet—If you don't mind. But I'm on the track of something."

"All right, but don't hesitate to ask for help if you want it."

"You may be sure I won't," John said warmly, "And I do appreciate the way you are treating me." The other gave a brief laugh.

"When a man is in as tight a place as I am right now, he's grateful for any help. As I said, I don't know what you are up to but Mrs Harcourt trusts you all the way and that's good enough for me."

John spent Monday morning overhauling Rutherford's car. She was running like silk when they drove to Piegan. They had no trouble of any kind and the little town was quiet and almost deserted when they drove into it. Not a single pony was tied at the hitching rail in front of the Square Deal.

Kent's house was just outside the town and, if Rutherford was surprised at John's call on the doctor he did not show it. He dropped John and went off to do some shopping. Kent was at home. A man of about John's age but shorter, stocky and almost as brown as an Indian.

"I was expecting you," he told John. "Mrs Harcourt sent me a note this morning."

"That was like her," John said. "Then you know what I've come about."

Kent did not answer at once. He seemed to be sizing up his visitor.

"I hear you are interested in Cliff Dwellings," he said pleasantly.

"I am, but not from your point of view," John answered bluntly.

Kent pursed his lips. "You can speak plainly. Even if I am not able to help you nothing you say will go beyond this room."

"Right," said John. "Then I won't beat about the bush. I believe that this fellow Spalding is running smuggled goods up the Black Creek Canyon from Mexico. I have some proof of it already. If I can get full proof I'm calling in the G-Men. I'm out to clear Spalding and his crew from this country."

"Every decent citizen will be grateful to you if you can do that, Mr Rundle," Kent said, "but I tell you straight that it's going to be a difficult and a most cursedly dangerous business. Now tell me what your proofs are and then, if I can help you, I'm game to try."

For the second time within 24 hours John gave an account of his adventure up the canyon. Kent listened keenly, and did not move or say a word until John had finished. Then he spoke quickly.

"So you saved Webb and got one of the dirty dogs. Say, I always thought Englishmen were kind of slow. I see I'm mistaken."

"I couldn't do anything else," John protested.

"You couldn't. I see that." Kent went to a cupboard and took out a bottle of whisky and two glasses.

"We'll have a drink and talk this thing over. I believe you are on to something and, if I can help, I'm your man."

They lit their pipes and talked for half an hour.

"I can get away on Friday," Kent said at last. "The job will take two days—perhaps three so we shall need a pack horse. No doubt Rutherford will let us have one. The main thing is to keep this trip dark, so the best plan will be for me to ride over to Halleck and we will start from there."

"If you could leave home on Thursday night and sleep at Halleck," John suggested, "then we could get away before sun-up on Friday."

"I'll do it," said Kent with decision. "And remember this, Rundle—not a word to anyone. If Spalding's crowd got the slightest inkling of what we were up to our lives wouldn't be worth that!" He snapped his fingers as he spoke.

Steps sounded on the broad walk outside. Kent glanced out of the window.

"Damnation!" he muttered. "Of all ill-luck! Here's King. Quick pull off your coat!"

John had not a notion of what Kent was after, but he obeyed swiftly. In a flash Kent had out bandages and liniment, and when Kent's old housekeeper ushered King into the room, John's left arm was already bandaged, while the reek of liniment filled the air.

"There!—I think that will do, Mr Rundle," Kent said. "You had better come again on Thursday. It will be five dollars please!"

John took out his bill-fold, extracted a five-dollar bill, and laid it on the table.

"Thank you, Dr. Kent," he said, "I will come again on Thursday. Good day!"

He turned slowly. He was wondering what King would do or say. Of course, the man was spying, but Kent's ruse must have puzzled him, and inwardly John was more amused than alarmed. King was quicker-witted than John had thought. He looked John full in the face.

"I trust your injuries are not serious, Mr Rundle," he said.

"Nothing that won't mend in a few days," John answered. "And your shoulder?" A flicker of fury showed for an instant in King's pale eyes, but he, too, had good hold of his temper.

"It will be well by the time we meet again," he replied.

"I hope so," John said dryly, and left the room.

He found Rutherford in the car, and the first thing Rutherford spotted was the bandaged arm.

"I didn't know you were hurt," he said sharply. John got into the car.

"I'm not. This is camouflage. If you have finished your business we'd best make tracks." Rutherford let in the clutch and the car shot away. He asked no questions but looked so puzzled that John had pity.

"I went to Kent to get some information," he said, "and Kent was very helpful. Just as I was leaving, King turned up. So I had to pretend to be a real patient. Hence the bandage."

"And you fooled him?" Rutherford asked quickly.

"Puzzled him, anyhow," said John, smiling.

Rutherford shook his head. "I don't like it, Rundle."

"My dear man, I wouldn't leave for anything, I could be offered. I've had the dullest life so far—all work and very little play. You wouldn't send me away just when I'm beginning to enjoy myself."

"Damned if I don't believe you mean it!" Rutherford exclaimed.

"Of course I mean it," John answered. "This is a wonderful country, and I have met some wonderful people. The only thing that spoils it is this Spalding gang. If I can help you to root it out before I have to go home I shall feel I have done something to justify my existence."

"Before you have to go home?" Rutherford repeated. "I hoped you were going to stay here—settle here. You like the country—you've just said so. Why do you talk of going back to England?"

"Because within a short time England will be at war—because she will need every able-bodied Englishman to help her," John answered gravely.


BEFORE they got back to the ranch John disclosed to Rutherford that Spalding was a German.

"Spalding a German!" Rutherford exclaimed. "How do you know?"

"I'm not ready to tell you yet," John answered. "But it's a fact. His real name is Schöneborn."

Rutherford frowned. "It's plain you know a lot more than I do. All right, Rundle. I suppose you'll tell me some time."

"I shall! Meantime I'm asking you to trust me."

"I'm doing that."

"Thank you," John said quietly. "Kent is coming to Halleck on Thursday night. Will you put him up?"

"Of course."

"And I want you to lend me a pack horse," John added.

"Surely! Take anything you want. So Kent's taking you on a trip? You wouldn't like me to come along, too?"

"I wouldn't. Kent and I can sneak off before light on Friday morning without any one being the wiser but, if you came Spalding would be sure to get on to it."

"Will Webb go?"

"No, and if you see him don't tell him I'm away."

Rutherford frowned again. "You're infernally mysterious, Rundle."

"Believe me, it's necessary. All I can say is that, if I get anything useful out of this bit of secret service work you shall be the first to know."

Rutherford grunted. "I wish I knew what you were up to," he grumbled as he turned the car into the private road leading to Halleck. "Hulloa!" he exclaimed sharply, "There's a plane!"

A small single-seater with stubby wings stood in the meadow from which they had just taken a crop of alfalfa. Several men were bunched around it. "It's one of the Border Patrol machines," Rutherford went on. "Trouble of some sort or it wouldn't be down here."

He drove quickly to the house. They jumped out and ran across to the meadow. Sid and two others of the men were watching the pilot who was exploring his engine. The latter turned as Rutherford and John came up.

Rutherford's face lit up, "Halloa, Ray. Glad to see you, but what's the trouble?"

The pilot, a slim man of something under thirty, was noticeable for two things, his brilliant clear blue eyes and a bad scar on his forehead. He shook hands warmly with Rutherford.

"Feed line busted," he said. "Lucky for me I wasn't ten miles further down the river. I'd have had one hell of a job to find a landing."

"You're all right here and we'll soon fix you up. Let me introduce my English friend, Mr John Rundle. He's a wiz with motor engines. Looks after my tractor and makes my old bus run like silk. Rundle, this is Lieutenant Ray Winthrop."

The two men took to one another at once, and John peeled off his coat, rolled up his sleeves and set to work. He sent Sid up to the garage for tools and the others went with him.

"I'll see Chan about supper," Rutherford said, "You'll stay the night, Ray?"

"Guess I'll have to," replied Winthrop with a grin, "Anyhow I got a good excuse."

What Winthrop called the feed line John discovered to be an oil pipe. It was badly cracked, but an hour's work would make it good as new.

"Been out long?" Winthrop asked presently.

"Less than a month."

"You've settled down all right?"

"I like it. Rutherford's a good soul."

"You bet. I've known him since he was knee-high to a grasshopper."

"And you about the same size," said John with a twinkle. Ray grinned. He had a most engaging grin.

"I'm a year older—that's all," he told John. "How's Rutherford making out here. Last time I saw him he was having some trouble about paying off his sister-in-law."

John hesitated, but only for a moment. Winthrop was Rutherford's friend. "He is still in trouble," he answered. "Do you know anything of Spalding, the banker at Piegan?"

Winthrop looked up from his work. His eyes narrowed. "I hope to God Mat's not in that fellow's clutches."

"He is," John said flatly. "Spalding has a mortgage on this place and means to foreclose. For some reason he's mad to get hold of Halleck."

"You're Mat's friend, Mr Rundle was Winthrop's rather surprising remark.

"I am—perhaps more so than he knows."

A puzzled look crossed the other's face. "Are you a detective?" he asked.

John laughed. "Just a farmer," he answered.

"You're more than that," said the other flatly. "I'm pretty fond of Mat Rutherford, and what you're told me has me worried. If you want to say anything more it won't go farther."

John had already realised he could trust Winthrop; he wanted all the help he could get, and it seemed likely that a pilot of the famous Border Patrol might be very helpful.

"All right," he said, "but keep on working. I wouldn't like Rutherford to know I'm telling you things I haven't told him."

John cut his story as short as he could—yet gave the airman all the facts of the case. Winthrop listened with keen attention and, when John stopped talking, nodded thoughtfully.

"So your notion is that Spalding is running stuff across from Mexico up the Black Creek Canyon."

"I can't see any other explanation," John said. "I'd like your opinion, Winthrop."

"I'll give you it for what it's worth. There's plenty of smuggling goes on still. It used to be liquor, tobacco, and Chinks. To-day It's mostly diamonds and dope, especially dope. But I hardly think Spalding would risk dope running. He's a rich man, and the penalties run to twenty years' imprisonment. Then, too, so far as we know, there's been no smuggling up the Black Creek Canyon." He paused then went on.

"On the other hand we can't be certain about any particular spot, and the fact that you spotted two sentries is highly suspicious—so suspicious that I feel it needs investigation."

"I'm going to investigate," John put in "A Dr. Kent who knows the country is coming with me on Friday."

"Rather asking for it, aren't you?" Winthrop suggested.

"I don't think so. We are not going up the canyon but across country to the place where the creek breaks out. What's troubling me is that Webb declares the canyon is blind, in which case I don't see what use it can be to take stuff up it."

Winthrop pursed his lips. "I wouldn't let that worry me. Webb's a good sheriff and knows his country, but no man alive could be sure there wasn't a way out of the maze of canyons. I've flown over it and I can tell you that country is like a spider's web. As for Kent, I know him, and you'll find him a better guide than Webb. He's spent all his spare time for the past ten or twelve years exploring these cliff dwelling." He looked up. "Here's Mat coming. Let's finish the job and we'll talk again after supper."

Talk they did, and John went to bed happier than he had been for some days. He had made a new friend, and he was convinced that the trip he and Kent were going to take might have useful results. Early next morning he saw Winthrop off.

"Write to me if you find anything," Winthrop said as he climbed into the plane "And if I can help you've only to ask."


JOHN was busy on Thursday, and did not get back to the house till supper-time. He found a note addressed to him, lying on his bunk. It was from Kent.

Dear Rundle,

I'm called out on an accident case, and don't know how long I'll be away. I probably won't get to Halleck to-night. To save time, will you meet me at the line cabin, at the west edge of the flying O. Any of the men will tell you how to find it. I reckon to get there at sun-up Friday morning.


Lawrence Kent."

The Flying O lay to the north of Halleck, a vast stretch of semi-desert owned by an eastern company. The headquarters were twenty miles away and the line cabin to which Kent referred was not far outside the Halleck properly and only about seven miles from Rutherford's house.

"But it ain't that easy to find," declared Sid, to whom John had gone for direction. "See here, Rundle, best thing is for me to go along and show you the way. The Boss won't mind. And if I was you I'd go to-night. We'd get there before dark, take our grub along, and sleep there. Then you'll he ready whatever hour Doc comes along."

John gazed at the youth.

"You're dying to get into this business, Sid," he said severely, "and frankly we don't want you.

"You got me all wrong," declared Sid in an injured tone. "I'll go right home the minute Doc gets there."

John considered. He had to realize that Sid's plan was good. Besides, by starting now and sleeping at the cabin his horse would be fresh in the morning.

He nodded. "Right you are, Sid. I'll be glad of your company. If you'll saddle up I'll see Mr Rutherford and tell Bat. Then I'll get the grub pack ready."

Rutherford made no abjection and Bat was equally friendly.

John and Sid got away well before sunset and there was still daylight in the western sky when they reached the line cabin. It was a rough shack standing in a deep swale which protected it from the wind. The door was not locked but, when John entered he pulled up short with a sniff of disgust. The shack was filthy.

"I'm not sleeping here," John said curtly.

"I ain't hankering to be ate alive," Sid agreed. He looked round. "It's a fine night and we got our sleeping bags. What say if we camp in that little grove of cottonwoods up the swale?"

"That'll suit me all right," John agreed, as he stepped outside and closed the door.

A spring rose from a cleft in the clump of cottonwoods. With wood, water, and shelter, it would have been hard to find a pleasanter spot for a camp. They watered their horses, tethered them, and made camp. Over a tiny fire they boiled a pot of coffee and heated a tin of pork and beans. These, with biscuit and a tin of peaches, made an excellent supper, after which the two lit their pipes chatted a while, then crawled into their sleeping bags. Sid slept at once but John lay awake a while, looking up at the stars, enjoying the fresh air of the heights and wondering what the morrow would bring. At last he dropped off and slept dreamlessly.

He was roused by a touch on the shoulder and sat up, instantly wide awake. Sid was beside him and one glance at the boy's face told John that something was wrong.

"Two men just came into the swale from the lower end," said Sid in a whisper. "Tough-looking birds. They've left their horses and are sort of creeping up on the shack."

"Some of Spalding's crew?" John asked.

"I reckon. If they was Flying O chaps they wouldn't be afoot."

John was already pulling on his boots. "Then that message last night was a fake," he said swiftly.

"Sure thing. Best we can do is make tracks."

"Make tracks? We've got rifles haven't we?"

"We could gun 'em down from the wood here, but—" Sid faltered and stopped.

"But that wouldn't be playing the game," said John. "All right Sid I understand. Wait till I have a look-see."

He crept to the south edge of the little wood. There were the men. They were about fifty yards from the shack, tip-toeing silently up to it. As tough looking a brace or scoundrels as John had ever set eyes on and both wearing two guns. As to their object he hadn't the shadow of a doubt. They meant to catch him asleep in the shack and finish him.

He went quickly back to Sid and to Sid's surprise, he was smiling.

"Saddle up quickly," he ordered. "Then lead the horses over the rise and wait for me. I won't be long." As he spoke he picked up his rifle and opened the breech to see it was loaded.

"You ain't going to face them two, single-handed," Sid retorted. "They' re professional gunmen."

"Don't waste time arguing. Do as I told you."

Sid hurried off. John went back to the edge of the coppice and lay flat. The two men had just reached the shack. One stopped, the other, gun in hand, softly opened the door.

At that moment John pulled trigger. With the flat crack of the report splinters flew from the lintel of the door barely six inches from the gunman's head. Like a jack-in-the-box the fellow flung himself head-long into the hut and the other followed. As the door banged behind hem a second bullet ripped into the planking.

John chuckled again, sprang to his feet and hurried after Sid.

"Gosh, I'm glad to see you," said the boy who was cinching the saddle of his own bronc. The other two horses were ready. "Did you get 'em?"

"I scared the stuffing out of them," John told him with a chuckle. "They're in the shack, and I hope they like the smell—and the fleas." Sid stared then he, too grinned.

"I get you. Say, what do we do now?"

"We get their horses and turn them loose. By the time they've walked home they won't feel so pert."

This time Sid laughed outright. "You got it all taped. Gee, I wouldn't own them fellows' feet to-night. They'll be raw as beef. Come on. Let's attend to them horses."

The horses stood ground-tied. It was only necessary to put the reins back over the saddle horns and give each a cut on the flank. Off they went and John knew they would not stop until they reached their stable—wherever that was. Then John put two more bullets into the shack after which he and Sid rode away at a smart pace.

Presently Sid pulled his horse to a walk. "We ain't ate breakfast yet," he remarked.

"It's the doctor I'm thinking of, not breakfast," John answered.

"You mean as Spalding has got him tied up somewheres," Sid said.

"That's what I'm thinking," John agreed.

"I don't reckon they'd hurt him," Sid said presently. "Make a hell of a stink if they was to kill a man as is as well liked as the doc. Myself, I doubt if they've tied him up. More like they faked a case a long ways off and after he'd gone switched the message he left for you. Anyways," he added philosophically, "it won't make no difference to him whether we have breakfast or not, but it'll make a lot of difference to us."

John had to admit that Sid's view was reasonable. They rode another mile, dropped down into a second swale where there was a trickle of water, lit a fire, and cooked bacon and coffee.

John lit his pipe and sat cross-legged, smoking in silence. Sid rolled a cigarette, and wondered what his English friend was thinking about.

Presently John spoke, "What beats me is how the Spalding crowd got on to this trip of ours."

"They got spies everywhere," Sid declared.

"But not at Halleck. Anyhow they found out. Now I'm wondering if they had some special reason for stopping us to-day."

"Any day is good enough for them so they got the chance of bumping you off."

"That may be so and by this time Spalding and King are feeling sure that I shan't trouble them again. Sid, I've a mind to take a look at the canyon."

"You mean they might be taking something up?" Sid said eagerly.

"It's on the cards," John answered. "If I'm right and if there is smuggling going on they'd bring the stuff across the river by night and take it up very early in the morning. Webb thinks I'm wrong, so does Mrs Harcourt, and even Winthrop didn't believe Spalding would take such a risk. They all know the country. I don't. Yet if there's nothing going on what were those sentries for?"

"The fellow you shot, you mean? The one that tried to bump off the sheriff. Say, Rundle, I'll bet a hat you're right. If it ain't Spalding some one is on the job. Let's go see. If we ride along down this swale it'll take us right to Black Creek."

"I don't want to go into the canyon," John told him. "I can see more from the rim. We'll cross over and ride down the far bank."

Fifteen minutes brought them to the edge of the lofty cliff. They ground-hitched their horses and crept to the edge. The sun was still above the eastern hills, and the bottom of the canyon still in deep shadow. The stillness was broken only by the murmur of the river far below.

"Kind of pretty, ain't it?" Sid suggested, "but I don't see no smugglers."

"We'll wait awhile," John said.

Half an hour passed, the sun rose higher and its beams warmed their backs.

"Afraid it's a wild goose chase," John said at last. Sid caught him by the arm.

"Keep still," he muttered. "I heard something."

They lay quietly. Then John heard it. The clink of shod horses coming up the stony bed of the canyon.

A couple of minutes passed, then three heavily laden horses accompanied by two riders came into view around a bend half a mile away.


JOHN, lying flat on his face on the cliff edge, quickly took his glasses from their case and focused them.

"It's King, Sid. It's King himself," he whispered.

A small thrill ran through him. After all he had been right and Webb and the others wrong.

Sid's voice cut in. "If I was you I'd put those glasses down, Rundle. The sun's striking right, across on 'em and if King looks up, he's bound to know someone's watching him."

John lowered the glasses in a hurry. Not that there was any need for them longer, for now King and his companion were in full sight. The second man was nearly as tall as King but not so heavy. Also he was dark as King was fair. Raven black hair, black eyebrows, and a close cut black moustache. He was well set up, sat his horse as if he were part of it, and, though he wore ordinary cowboy dress with a silk handkerchief knotted round his throat he did not look quite the part.

"Who is that other man?" John asked. Sid did not answer at once, and John glanced round. He was surprised at the look on Sid's face.

"That's Leach Lewis," the boy said in a low voice.

"Leach Lewis," John repeated. He frowned. "I've heard of him. He's the boss of the whole outfit, isn't he?"

"Spalding's the boss, but Lewis is his right hand man. Lewis does the dirty work. He's a killer, Rundle."

"One of these paid murderers I've heard of," said John with scorn. "That's the sort Spalding and King would rely on."

"He's a murderer all right," Sid said bitterly. He caught John by the arm. "Rundle, here's your chance. Plug him as he comes along. With Leach Lewis out of the way, Spalding and King'll have their best tooth drawn. You'll never have such a chance again."

John looked at Sid. The boy's face was set and hard. He meant every word he said.

"You want me to turn bushwhacker Sid?" John asked quietly.

"Executioner," retorted Sid. "That feller's killed at least seven men to my knowledge, one of 'em my dad's brother. If you don't want to do it give me the rifle."

John shook his head. "Even if the man's a murderer he rates a trial. Besides, Sid, any shooting would spoil everything. King and Leach are taking that stuff to some secret hiding place. That's what I want to find. Once I find it I'm calling in the Federal officers. Then Leach will hang and King and Spalding will go to prison for twenty years or more. The whole gang will be broken up, the ranch will be saved."

"Saved?" Sid said sharply.

John shrugged, "I forgot you didn't know. Spalding has a mortgage on Halleck and intends to foreclose. Killing Lewis or King or both wouldn't stop him, but finding this cache and showing him up would finish him."

"So that's the way of it," Sid said. "I reckon you're right Rundle. You mostly are. But it sure goes against the grain to see that dirty murderer right under our sights and let him go free. What you mean to do?"

"Follow them along the rim and see where they go."

"Easier said than done. We got to cross that there side gulch."

This was true. The swale which they had ridden across nearer its western end was here a deep narrow canyon which cut them off from the north.

John was not discouraged. "They're not hurrying. They can't with those heavily loaded horses. If we ride fast we can get round in twenty minutes. By that time they won't be more than a mile away."

"Guess we'll try it," Sid agreed briefly.

They had to go quietly for the first half mile. Sound travels far to the stillness of the desert land and they could not risk King and his companion hearing the sound of galloping hooves. But once they did begin to ride they kept a sharp pace and were soon back at a spot where they were able to take their horses across the swale. They waited to let them drink for there would be no water on the mesa, then they turned east wards along the north side of the deepening gulch. Here the going was bad, for the mesa was rocky and seamed with deep cracks and crevices. Even so, they were back on the canyon rim within half an hour of starting. They left their horses behind a big rock outcrop, where there was some shade, and made their way cautiously to the rim of the main canyon.

At this point the course of the Black Creek was almost straight for more than a mile. From their lofty perch John and Sid could see the bed of the canyon for fully two miles in a northerly direction. But there was no sign of any living thing in the depths below.

"They must have turned back," Sid declared.

John was examining the floor of the canyon through his glasses.

"They didn't turn back. See! There are fresh horse-marks almost exactly below us."

Sid took the glasses and looked in the direction John pointed out. He shook his head.

"You're right, Rundle, but where in sin have they gone? I'll swear they couldn't have got out of sight in the time we have been away. They weren't moving more'n three miles an hour."

"They weren't and they couldn't with the loads those pack-horses were carrying."

"You don't reckon they was ghosts," Sid suggested.

"They were pretty solid if they were. I could hear the horses' hoofs on the stones down below."

"Then they must have growed wings."

"I think I have a better explanation Sid. I believe there is some hidden way, probably a tunnel leading out of the canyon. This limestone is as full of holes as a Gruyere cheese. Our job now is to find it."

"How are you going to do it? You can't climb down them cliffs and, if you tried, I reckon you'd be a pretty good imitation of a colander before you got to the bottom."

"That's true. All I can do is camp here and watch. King's bound to go back sooner or later."

Sid pursed his lips. "Some contract Rundle. It ain't precisely cool now and in an hour or two it'll be hot as the hinges of Hell. And there ain't no cover handy to the rim. Want I should ride home and bring you an umbrella?"

"Might be a good notion. But you'll go home anyhow Sid."

"That's one order I ain't taking," replied Sid obstinately. "Have sense. We got to take the watch by turns. Ain't no one alive could lie out there all day without getting sunstroke. Besides, them horses'll have to be watered some time to-day."

John had to admit that Sid was right. He and Sid took turns to watch and to rest under the shade of the rocks. At midday Sid took the two horses back to water and refilled the cantine. They had plenty of food but had to eat it cold. John was uneasy about Kent but Sid repeated his conviction that the Spalding party would certainly not harm the doctor. He was so sure about it that John began to believe him.

The day was the longest John had known but at last the sun dropped behind the high ground to the west and blessed coolness of evening made it easier to breathe. Then suddenly John beard a clink of shod hooves on stone, and here was King riding down the canyon.


KING had come out almost immediately beneath the spot where John had been watching. Exactly where the exit was John could not see because there was a big bulge in the rock face some way down.

"Only King," Sid whispered. "Where's Lewis?"

"Still holed up, I take it," John answered.

"Gee! If we could only get him! Sid breathed.

"So we can and will. Get your horse, Sid, and ride back to Halleck, tell Mat and ask him to send for Webb. Tell him to come in force. We can't tell how many men they have below."

"And you stay here alone?"

"Of course, there's nothing to hurt me. Hurry, Sid! Those two beauties from the line cabin may be home by now and there's no saying what Spalding will do when he knows we got away from his thugs."

"He'll come hunting you—that's a sure thing. It's a pity we didn't finish 'em while we were about it."

"You're not so tender-hearted as you were, Sid," John observed with, a smile. "But it's quite likely Spalding will be on the war path, so watch yourself while you ride back. You'll be in much more danger than I."

"There ain't light enough for any bushwhacker so I'll be right enough. But I sure hate to leave you here alone."

"Don't worry about me," John said, "If anyone does come along there's plenty of cover among the rocks. And that reminds me. I don't want to walk into the hands of Spalding's gang thinking they are your lot. We must have some signal. I have a torch in the saddle bag. You bring one and, if it's still dark make two short flashes and one long. I'll answer the same."

"I'll do it," said Sid and rode away.

After the sound of his horse's hooves had died in the distance the silence was broken only by the murmur of the river in the gorge below. Apart from that there was not a sound.

John sat on a boulder near the rim rock and wondered what there was in the caves beneath him. One thing which puzzled him greatly was what became of the smuggled stuff. It had to be taken either up the canyon or down. Since he had seen it being brought up, it was hardly likely that it went back the same way. How then did it leave the canyon which, as Webb had declared, had no way out at the top? The more he considered the matter the more puzzled he became, and the more clearly he realised that there was still a great deal to be discovered.

The temperature fell fast. Under the cloudless sky the sun's heat, stored during the day in the baked and stony coil, soon evaporated. John began to feel extremely chilly.

He remembered the heavy oil skin slicker strapped on the back of his saddle and decided to go and fetch it.

Sturdy had been watered at sunset and given a feed of oats. But the good horse was bored with long standing in one place. He was pleased to see John and nuzzled him in friendly fashion. John stayed with the horse a while, petting him. At last he left him and with the slicker over his arm, walked quietly back towards the canyon. Sturdy, left alone, whinnied for his master.

The rock outcrop where Sturdy was tied was a couple of hundred yards back from the rim. Nearer to the cliff edge was another tumbled mass of limestone crags. John had reached this, was passing it when a sound reached his ears. A small sound for it was merely the tinkle of a pebble falling, but it was enough to pull him up short and make him crush his big body close against the rock.

Pebbles don't fall by themselves, and John could hear his own heart beating as he strained his senses to catch any fresh sound.

It came. A faint grating, yet, faint as it was, John was fairly certain that it was made by human feet. He waited, hardly breathing, and presently saw a man come out into the starlight from the deep shadow of the rock pile and walk quietly towards the rocks behind which Sturdy stood. Where the man came from John could not imagine, but it was perfectly clear that he had heard the horse whinny and was going to see what was up.

There was not light enough to identify the man, but it was fairly certain he was one of Spalding's lot. He would, of course, spot the brand on the flanks of Sturdy and of the pack horse, recognize them as from Halleck, and at once start a search for their owner. Also he would be pretty sure to turn the horses loose, thus cutting off John's chance of escape.

John did not waste much time in thinking. The man had to be stopped, and the one way to do it was to take him by surprise. He waited only till the fellow was out of sight around the edge of the further rock clump, then followed.

He had to go quietly yet managed to make considerable speed, and he reached the spot where the other had vanished in a very brief space of time.

The horses stood in semi-circular space partly roofed by a jutting shelf of limestone. John crept up to the northern edge and peered cautiously round. There was a man. He was stooping over the pack saddle, which Sid had placed in a niche among the rocks, examining its contents by the shaded gleam of a small pocket touch. The light, slight as it was showed up the outline of the searcher and, though John could not see his face, he had no difficulty in recognizing him as the gun man, Leach Lewis.

John had been in the West long enough to know the lighting speed with which a man like this can draw and fire a pistol. He was aware that the slightest mistake on his part meant certain death yet did not hesitate. With three silent strides he was on Lewis and, flinging his arms round the killer's body, flung him flat.

The fall with all the weight of John's twelve stone on top would have knocked out most men. But not Lewis. He struggled desperately, fighting with the silent fury of a panther.

For a few breathless moments it was all John could do to hold him down. Lewis was striving to draw gun, and it was only John's knowledge of wrestling that saved him. He got an arm lock on the man and wrenched his right arm back until the pressure brought a groan of pain from Lewis's lips.

"You'd better be good," John advised "Another half inch and you'll have a dislocated shoulder." Lewis relaxed.

"Damn you!" he snarled. "Who are you and what do you want?"

"I want your gun for one thing, then I'm going to tie you up and keep you for the sheriff."

Lewis exploded. There was no other word for it. John had never believed there could be such force in any man's muscles. He was within an ace of being flung off Lewis's body. If he had not kept hold of his wrist the tables would have been turned. As it was, he was able to give that final jerk. There was a crack, and this time the gunman went flat for keeps.

"You asked for it," John said in chilly voice. "Now I doubt if you'll ever be the danger you have been unless you can shoot as well with your left hand as your right."

"I can shoot well enough to kill you," snapped Lewis, "and I'll never rest till you're dead."

"Then," said John, "the sensible course would be to shoot you at once. From all I've heard that's no more than you deserve. But I prefer to see you hang."

Lewis's answer was to make a frantic attempt to draw the gun from his left holster. Just in time John kicked it out of his hand.

It was too late for mercy. John picked up the pistol and rapped Lewis over the head with the barrel. This time he lay still, and he was still insensible when John had finished tying and gagging him.

All this time John had been burning with curiosity as to how Lewis had reached the top of the cliff. Now he turned back to the other rock mass and set to searching. Presently he found it. In the very centre of the rocks was an arched opening, and from it a passage dropped steeply into the gloom.


IT was plain enough now. This passage came up from the cave below and through it any smuggled stuff could be brought up to the mesa, loaded on pack-horses and taken to its destination. John would not have been human if he had not felt slightly triumphant to realise that he had been right all the way through. Now all he had to do was to wait for the return of Sid and Webb and the rest, then they could block this passage mouth, send a force round into the canyon and collar the lot.

He looked at his watch. It was not yet nine. It would be at least three hours before the posse could arrive. If they waited for Webb it would be nearer six hours. In the meantime there was the danger that someone might come up from below to look for Lewis. John wondered if he could manage to block the exit unaided.

There were plenty of stones lying about, but nothing big enough for his purpose. After all, the best course would be to keep guard here at the entrance and wait for the ranch party. He had his rifle. If anyone poked his head up, so much the worse for the head.

John pulled on his slicker and sat on a boulder close to the passage mouth. A little breeze had sprung up and made small whispering sounds. An hour passed; John badly wanted a smoke, but dared not light his pipe. His thoughts turned to the Harcourts and he felt a glow of pleasure at the thought of how delighted Norma would be when she heard that the danger to Halleck was passed, and that Mat and Sally could be safely married.

Norma! In all his thirty-eight years John had never been deeply interested in any woman. While in the City he had not had the chance of meeting the sort of girl who would have pleased his rather fastidious taste, and since he had been on the farm he had been too busy to think of anything else but work.

Now the case was altered, and sitting here alone under the stars, he realized that he was falling in love with Norma Harcourt.

"Falling in love; No damn it! I've done it already," he said half aloud. He smiled ruefully. "John, you ought to have known better," he continued. "Here you are middle-aged and mooning over a woman whose husband isn't two months dead."

A sound made him start. It seemed to come from the tunnel. He got up, went quickly to the opening and bent down to listen. Something crashed on the back of his head, sparks exploded before his eyes, and that was all he knew for a long time to come.

Getting back one's senses after a severe blow on the head is never a pleasant business. A dreadful ache above his eyes and a mouth and throat like leather—these were John's first sensations as he struggled back to consciousness. Where he was or what had happened he didn't even try to know.

His eyelids felt like lead. When at last he managed to raise them a light straight in front dazzled him. He shut his eyes again and fell back in a sort of stupor. From this he was roused by a harsh voice. The speaker was beside him.

"He's breathing all right, He's coming round."

"Which is a good job for you," said another voice and dazed as he was, John recognised it as that of his step-father. "If you had killed him before I had dealt with him I should have had something to say to you, you thick-fisted fool."

The other man muttered something under his breath and moved away. John was conscious that Spalding was bending over him.

"So I've got you at last," Spalding said and laughed.

"You got me?" he retorted, with all the accent on the "you."

"You're here anyhow," Spalding said, "completely in my power to do as I like with. I suppose you thought I didn't know you but, even if you had had the sense to change your name—which you hadn't—I had you spotted and it was only a question of time before I picked you up. You have given me more trouble than you are worth and probably the best thing I could do is to tie a stone to your heels and drop you into the river opposite." He paused, and in the light of the big acetylene lamp which hung from the roof of the cave John saw the sneer on the man's face. "But you might prove useful as a hostage," Spalding went on. "Besides, my nephew would never forgive me if I got rid of you before he had squared his account with you."

"Your nephew," John repeated.

"Even if you are a German I'd hardly have thought you would have acknowledged such an unmitigated Hun as a relative."

Spalding's eyes blazed. He stopped swiftly and struck John across the mouth with his open hand.

He never did a sillier thing. John went berserk. He shot to his feet, caught Spalding round the body and, all in one action flung him over his shoulder. Spalding fell with a heavy thud on the flat floor of the cave and lay still.

"What the hell!" came an angry shout and a man whom he had not seen before charged straight at John.

Dizzy with his tremendous exertion John yet managed to hit out at his new opponent, and more by luck than skill caught him full on his nose. The fellow staggered back then, with a vicious oath, pulled a pistol.

John saw the flash from the muzzle; he never heard the report, for with the flash it was as if a great hammer had hit him on the head. He went down beside Spalding.

When he came to for a second time he was in pitch darkness and utter silence. Presently he tried to move. A stab of pain in his head forced him to drop back, but he stretched out and his fingers touched rough rock. So he knew that he was still in the cave.

Where Spalding and his crew had gone he had not an idea, but the silence was so complete that he felt certain none of them were near. The pain seemed concentrated above his left ear; he raised his arm and found that his hair on that side was matted with dried blood.

By degrees it came to him that the bullet had grazed his skull and knocked him out. No doubt the man who had fired believed he had killed him and had left him for dead. But where had he gone, and where was Spalding?

Thirst tormented him and after a while he managed to sit up. Putting his right hand in his pocket, he found he still had his electric torch. He switched it on. The thin ray showed the big lamp still hanging from the roof, but now extinguished. It showed a rough table and stools and parts of many broken cases. Then as he turned the torch from side to side its light was reflected from a small pool of water under the far wall of the cavern.

John made an effort to get to his feet. He turned dizzy and had to drop back. Then be started to crawl across to the pool. The pain in his head nearly blinded him and, though the distance was no more than twenty paces, he had to stop twice before he reached it.

The water was clear and cold. John lying flat on his stomach, drank and drank again. Feeling stronger, he got out a handkerchief, soaked it, and bathed his aching head.

His light showed him a pile of dried grass under the wall. He crawled to it, lay down, switched off his torch and almost at once went to sleep.

When he woke his head was less painful, but he was very weak. He crawled over to the pool and drank again. Now he was able to think more clearly, and he began to try and piece things together.

There was no one in the cave but himself. Spalding and his gang had cleared out and, so far as John could see, had taken their smuggled stuff with them. There seemed to be nothing but broken cases in the cave, but the cave was big, and his torch gave little light.

He had matches and managed to get to his feet and light the big acetylene lamp. Now he could see the whole place with its wide floor, which had been roughly levelled, and its lofty roof from which ice-like stalactites hung down. The odd thing was that he could see no way in or out.


JOHN looked again, but this second inspection gave him no comfort. A chill ran down his spine. It looked as If Spalding had closed the place up after leaving. A small charge of explosive would do that very easily.

He would have to search all round to make sure, but at present he was too weak. He realised that he was hungry. How long he had been in the cave he had no idea for his watch had ran down, but it must have been a long time.

He began to search for food.

He noticed a good sized oil stove and a quantity of pots and pans. Also a sort of food safe, a big wooden case fronted with wire gauze. In this John found a few biscuits, some butter and a small piece of boiled bacon. He ate and felt strength come back.

He rested a while then took his torch and made his way all round the cave. It was as he had expected. The main entrance from the canyon which was a mere slit, had been closed by a charge of explosive. The other, the one into the sloping passage, which led up to the mesa, was still open and John climbed it slowly and painfully. He did not get far. A score of feet up this, too, was blocked by a mass of broken rock.

He got back to the cave, turned the lamp low so as to make the light last as long as possible and dropped down on his grass bed. He was buried alive and it was all he could do to keep himself from panicking.

Fortunately for John years of hard work, mental and physical, had given him considerable power of self-control. He leaned back against the wall, took half a dozen deep breaths, then set himself to size up his position and see what hope there was—if any—of getting out, alive. Points in his favour were these: first, the air was good, he had plenty of water and enough food to keep him alive for several days. Secondly, Sid and the others would certainly search for him and Sid knew of the existence of the cave.

On the other hand Sid knew nothing of the upper entrance and was not likely to find it. This being the case he would not dream that John could be in the cave for there was no way down the cliffs into the canyon. Sid would think rather that he, John, had been surprised by Spalding's killers on top of the mesa and been carried away by them. His only hope seemed to be that some of the search party might eventually make their way into the canyon in order to find the cave and see what was in it.

An idea came to him. The air was quite fresh so it was evident that the cave was not air-tight. There must be some opening. What about smoke? He got up at once and began to collect straw and shavings. Of these there were plenty. He made a small heap in the center of the cave, lit it and watched the smoke. It rose straight towards the roof, then a cross current caught it and drifted it in an easterly direction. His spirits rose as he saw it being sucked towards the wall close under the roof.

He got more straw, wetted it and put it on the fire. The smoke thickened, but the air close to the floor remained fairly clear.

For an hour or more he kept on feeding the fire but nothing happened and he was dismayed to find that his fuel was running out.

With the smoke and exertion John's head was aching worse than ever and he was feeling very shaky. He lay down on his grass head and once more fell asleep.

A voice roused him. "Don't worry, Sid. He's not going to die—not yet anyhow."

John opened his eyes. Dr. Kent was kneeling beside him, and Sid and Mat Rutherford standing by.

"So you saw the smoke?" John said in a voice that was little more than a whisper.

"Smoke," repeated Kent puzzled. "There's smoke in here, but we didn't see any."

"Then how did you find me?"

"Sid did that," replied Kent drily. "He made Leach Lewis talk."

"Leach Lewis! Then Spalding didn't find him."

"We found him just where you had left him. But don't talk, Rundle. You have a slight concussion. Drink this, then we are going to take you home."

"Never mind about me. You have to find Spading. He took all his stuff away but you can surely track him."

"We'll get him all right," Kent promised. "Harrigan and his boys are on the trail."

He put a glass to John's lips and made him drink every drop. John lay back and in a couple of minutes was asleep again.

"Now let's take him out," Kent said.

"He won't wake till we get him home."

They carried John out through the entrance from which they had cleared the broken boulders. Half a dozen men with Webb were waiting outside in the canyon with a litter.

"How is he?" Webb asked anxiously.

"As well as any man can be who has two bad blows on the head," Kent told him. "The first was from a gun barrel, the other from a bullet. Luckily, the last was only a graze, but he has lost a lot of blood. No need to worry. He'll be in bed a week or two but he'll pull out all right."

Webb nodded. "I'm mighty glad of that. We'll be needing him bad."

John remained peacefully unconscious during the long trek home. The men carried the litter by turns all down Black Creek Canyon. At the lower end a light four-wheeled wagon was waiting with a mattress and though there was no road the quiet horses pulled it without accident.

Kent had thought at first that John would be about again in a few days. He changed his opinion when he called next day and found his patient with a temperature of 102 degrees.

"Malaria," he told Rutherford. "I ought to have warned him to take quinine. Now he will need nursing, and I'm going to have a job to find a nurse. I'll have to send to El Paso." As he spoke a car drew up in front of the house. It was the Harcourt's car and Sally was driving. Mrs Harcourt got out.

"She knows of a nurse," Rutherford said. "We'll ask her."

Her answer was prompt.

"I shall nurse him myself. It's the least I can do after all he has done for us. You can put us up, Mat?"

John had a severe attack of malarial fever and this, on top of his injuries, made him very ill indeed. Kent vowed afterwards that it was Norma Harcourt's nursing that saved John's life.

Webb called at least once a week but it was a long time before Kent would let his patient have a visitor. At last, one sultry summer evening Norma Harcourt told the sheriff that Kent had given permission for him to see John. John greeted him with delight.

"I've been longing to see you. They treat me like a baby and won't tell me a thing. What's happened. Did you get Spalding?"

"I didn't try," was the answer.

"You didn't try," repeated John, amazed.

"I got no evidence," the sheriff explained. "There wasn't a scrap in that cave. He got everything out and where he's put it beats me. There's no law against a man living in a cave or against him blowing it up when he leaves."

"But there were loads on the pack horses. Sid and I saw them. And King with them."

"You never saw what was in those packages. Might have been horse feed for all you know."

"I suppose that's true," he said slowly. "Then all we did goes for nothing."


"I WOULDN'T say that," Webb replied.

"No, indeed! You've got evidence that satisfies me that your idea was right. Spalding and King have been bringing stuff over the Border. It was just bad luck that you couldn't clinch that evidence. If you and Sid had tied up those two gunmen that tried to bushwhack you, we'd have had Spalding and King just where we want them."

"But we didn't tie them up and we didn't get the evidence," John said with a touch of despondency which was unusual.

Webb refused to be discouraged, "The big thing is that we know Spalding is bringing stuff in from Mexico. Now our job is to find where he took it after leaving you in the cave."

"He probably carted it back into Mexico," John suggested.

"No. When Spalding left the cave he travelled north, up the canyon. We found sign, but lost it higher up where the floor is all rocks. He's got a second hiding place, but darned if I can find it!"

John frowned, "But the horses—there were five at least. They've got to be fed. I take it you've watched the canyon to see if they took anything up or down."

"You bet I've had it watched. Four men have been on the job day and night. Nothing's gone up or down. But as for the horses, there are caves big enough to hold a hundred horses, and they could have stored feed for a year."

There came a knock on the door, and John said, "Come in!" Sally entered, carrying a newspaper. Her pretty face was grave.

"Forgive my butting in," she said. "I had to come: John, there is bad news. Germany has invaded Poland and France has declared war."

John's lips tightened. His eyes were full of dismay.

"I must go home," he said, curtly, "Sally, will you tell your mother that I must leave to-day."

"You can't!—it's absurd! You're not fit to travel," Sally exclaimed.

"I must not delay," John said, "If I do, I may not be able to get a passage."

"I'll tell mother," Sally said, "but I'm perfectly certain Dr. Kent won't let you go." She left the room, and John started to get out of bed.

Webb checked him. "Wait a bit, Rundle. A few minutes won't make odds either way. Anyhow, the train don't leave El Paso till seven this evening. Listen here! Suppose you do your fighting in this country—it'll save you a heap of travelling."

A puzzled frown crossed John's face "What do you mean, Webb? America isn't coming in."

"She'll come in—but not yet. Maybe you can help her to come."

"Talk straight!" John said impatiently. "I'm in no mood for riddles!"

"There's no riddle about it. I haven't told you all I know. Spalding and King belong to the Bund. I'm sure of that as I am that I'm sitting in this chair, though I haven't got proof to arrest them."

"The Bund," John repeated. "I've heard of it, but can't say I know much about it. It's the Nazi organization over here, I take it?"

"All that—and then some. In the last war we had the 'Workers of the World,' but this is a sight worse. The Bund started as soon as Hitler got power in Germany."

"But I thought your law forbade that sort of thing," John put in.

"That's so, but they laugh at it. That crowd are mighty cunning. They work through the German Consulate. Crank clubs, soaked in National Socialism spread all over this country. Every State has a bunch tarred with the same dirt. Even New Mexico and Texas are not free of this filth. We have German coffee growers and Japanese farmers. Talk of Fifth Columns. If we don't got this thing down before a year's past we'll be having Hitler as our next President."

Webb spoke with a sort of subdued ferocity which impressed John deeply.

"This is all news to me," he said "How do you propose to crush it?"

"Me. I'm only a small cog in a big wheel but I can do my bit, as you folk say. What do you reckon was in those packs you saw King taking up the canyon?"

"I can't say I thought much about it. Liquor perhaps or tobacco or dope."

"Not any. Those were rifles or machine-guns and ammunition for the Bund."

"You mean that these people are making ready to fight?"

"I mean just that, and I'll bet Roosevelt himself knows it."

"Then why the devil don't they squash it?"

"That's not so easy as you think, mister. These Nazis work under cover, and now that the war's started their uniforms disappear and it will be devilish hard to get evidence against them." He paused a moment, then went on.

"I believe Spalding is the group leader in this State. Think what it would mean if we could get definite evidence against him. You and I and Kent. Don't you reckon that would be worth more to your country than your service as an officer of one small unit of your Home Defence Force?"

John nodded. "There's not much doubt about that sheriff. But it's a big 'if,' and in any case I'm bound by my oath of allegiance to serve at home."

"Don't you worry about that. I'm in touch with the Federal Authorities and can pull the necessary strings at Washington. If I say I need you, which I do, your Government will let you stay."

John bit his lip. He had never felt so undecided. He knew that Webb had paid him a great compliment in asking him to work with him, yet hated the idea of losing his place in the defence of England. Webb spoke again.

"I know just how you feel. See here! You're in no shape to travel, and, as Miss Sally said, the doctor wouldn't let you. Let me get you three months' sick leave. I'll tell 'em how you got hurt. In a couple of weeks you'll be fit again and we'll start our hunt. If it comes to nothing, then you can go on home; if we get Spalding you can do as you like." John's face cleared.

"Good enough!" he said briefly.

Webb got up. There was a satisfied expression in his keen eyes. "Thought you'd see the sense of it. I'm going right home and the message goes to Washington to-night. No, Spalding won't know—it'll be in cypher."


THERE was a glum look in Dr. Kent's face as he slowly filled his pipe and lit it. He and John were sitting in the mouth of a small cave near the head of Black Creek canyon. They had finished their supper and were having a last pipe before turning in.

Both men looked thin and travel-worn, both were burned almost black with long days of tramping under a brutally hot sun; their clothes were the worse for wear, and their boots scuffed and worn.

Presently Kent spoke, "I shan't be sorry for a slack day or two, Rundle. I feel as if I could sleep for a week."

John smiled. "You can have twenty four hours if you want it. Webb said he'd be away two days. He won't be back till to-morrow night."

"We might just as well have gone home with him," Kent said. "We've searched every yard of these canyons. It's my belief that Spalding took everything back into Mexico, and that those tracks to the north of this cave were made just to put us off the scent."

John shook his head. "I don't agree Kent. He's got some bolt hole we haven't found yet. But it isn't fair to keep you away from your practice and, when Webb comes back with the provisions, I suggest you had better return."

"I'm no quitter," Kent replied. "I'll I stay on the job as long as you two," He yawned. "I'm wore out, as old Chudleigh used to say. I'll feel better after a night's sleep." He knocked out his half-smoked pipe, got up and went to his sleeping bag at the inner end of the cave.

John sat gazing vacantly down the canyon. Though he had not admitted it he was almost as discouraged as Kent. He, Kent and Webb had spent twelve days in the search for Spalding's cache. They had explored miles of canyons and entered scores of caves. They had endured searching heat, they had encountered rattle snakes, Gila monsters, scorpions, tarantulas, and coyotes, but so far had not seen a sign of human life.

They had paid particular attention to the head of the canyon near which they were now camped. John had it in his mind that Spalding's gang might have rigged a crane, and so drawn the horses up to the top of the cliff, here, no more than eighty feet in height but, after climbing to the top and exploring thoroughly, they found no sign of anything of the sort. In any case horses could not have travelled here. The mesa was a nightmare of broken rock and boulders and was seemed with deep cracks and crevices. Not even a burro, one of those sure-footed donkeys used by desert prospectors, could have gone far without coming to grief.

A long time passed, the moon rose, casting shadows of the crags across the canyon, and at last John followed Kent's example and sought his blankets.

Tired as he was he could not sleep. His brain was too active. It was midnight before he fell into an uneasy doze.

Suddenly he was wide awake. He sat up, wondering what had roused him. He had no premonition of danger, yet felt that it was something definite which had wakened him.

Presently he got it. It was the silence. The low roar of the river, to which he had become accustomed that he no longer noticed it had ceased. The silence was uncanny.

He rolled out, and pulled on his boots. Kent was sound asleep. John did not disturb him, but left the cave quietly.

The moon was now almost overhead and her white light filled the great gorge. It showed the river bed empty except for small pools among wet boulders.

John made straight for the tunnel by which the stream emerged from under the cliff. The distance was only a couple of hundred yards. Reaching it he found himself able to walk into the opening. There was plenty of head room, and the bed was firm rock.

A thrill of excitement to which he had long been a stranger ran through his veins. Was this the explanation of the mysterious appearance of the smugglers and their goods? Could they possibly have some means of cutting off the water so that they were able to march up the tunnel to some hidden retreat?

John started to walk up the tunnel, but was not twenty paces in before he found himself in pitch darkness. He had not his torch with him. He groped his way out, feeling rather ashamed of himself. If he was right, and if the water had been cut off by mechanical agency, the odds were that the gang were going to run a fresh cargo. A nice fool he would have looked, caught by them in the tunnel. He quickly hid himself behind a spur of rock and waited.

He had not been waiting more than a couple of minutes before there was a booming sound, then out came the river again but this time in nearly twice its usual volume. A regular flood, but not thick or muddy. The water was quite clear.

In a few minutes it ran down but, even so, the water at the tunnel mouth was more than three feet deep with a current so strong that no human being could force a way against it.

John frowned thoughtfully. Now there was no doubt in his mind that the stream had been cut of by human agency. If a rock fall in the tunnel had been the cause then the water would most certainly have been thick. Obviously the next thing to do was to try to trace the course of the underground stream and find where the dam or sluice gate had been constructed.

He went back to the cave. His first idea had been to rouse Kent, but Kent was sleeping so soundly and looked so worn that he decided to leave him. He wrote a note to say what he had seen and what he was doing and pinned it on Kent's blanket. He collected his torch, his rifle, his compass, cartridges, and cantine, and started up the cliff by a way they had found days earlier.

It was a stiff climb, especially by moonlight, and it did occur to John that it might have been wiser to wait for day. On the other hand it was much cooler now than it would be after sunrise, and there was less risk of being seen if there was anyone up above there on watch.

The past fortnight had taught John many things. From Webb he had learned scoutcraft; from Kent mountaineering. He had quite recovered from his illness, and was as hard and fit as a man could be.

He went up the cliff and began to work his way in and out among the mad confusion of rocks, boulders, pits and gullies. It was hard and dangerous travelling, and what made it harder was the necessity for moving soundlessly.

There was no way of telling from which direction the river came. Using his compass, John worked in a northerly direction. He had been walking for half an hour when he found himself on the brink of a sink-hole.

Sink-holes are peculiar to limestone districts. Water wears away the rock until a mere crust remains. This at last breaks, leaving a pit which may be of very great depth, and which usually contains water. Dangerous places, for the rim is often overhanging, and brittle and, once you fall, there is no return.

John approached carefully and looked down. The pit was small, resembling a great well. The moon cast a faint gleam on dark water some fifty feet below him.

John turned and searched about and came back with a small bunch of dry grass. He twisted this up, put a match to it and dropped it. It was still burning when it touched the water and it burned long enough for him to see it float quickly across the dim surface and vanish into the rock.

His spirits rose. He was on the right track. This was the river.

He got up, listened, a while but all was still. He pushed on, still going north. The eastern sky was beginning to turn grey, the stars were dimming, dawn was near. He came to a peak of jagged rock which rose to a considerable height. Laying aside his rifle, he set to climbing it and, after a struggle, reached the top.

Now the light, though still dim, was enough to give him a view of his surroundings. A crazier scene he had never set eyes on. The country looked as if a regiment of mad giants had been at play. Blocks, boulders, crags, and great outcrops of rock stretched away in every direction.

John hardly noticed them, for a little to the left he caught a gleam of water. It lay at the bottom of a long narrow rift. He got out his glasses, focussed them, and saw that the water was moving. The current set from north to south.

"Got it at last," he said. "That's where they've built their sluice and that's where they store their stuff."


THE sun was nearly two hours high before John got back to the cave. He had crept and crawled and dodged in and out among rocks so as to make sure that none of the enemy could see him.

Kent met him at the entrance. "What the devil have you been doing; Rundle," he demanded.

"I've been scouting, Kent, and I've found something."

"Found something? What?"

"Spalding's hiding place. There's no doubt about it this time. Listen!" He told Kent the whole business, how he had seen the river bed dry, how he had climbed the cliff and searched the Bad Lands above, how he had found the sink-hole and, after that, the rift through which the river ran.

"But you didn't see any cave mouth," said Kent sharply. "Apart from the fact that the stream stopped for a while you have no proof that these Huns are there."

"I did not see any cave mouth," John answered, "because the mouth, I feel sure, opens under the arch of the tunnel. I did not dare go round to the North end of the rift for fear of being spotted. All the same I have proof that someone is using the place. From the top to that rock I saw a trail running North. It had been used by horses."

Kent nodded. "That's proof all right. It surely does look as if you'd found something, Rundle. What do you reckon to do now?"

"Breakfast. While we eat we can discuss plans."

Kent had already lit a small fire inside the cave. They brewed coffee, fried bacon, and Kent made some flap jacks. Flour was almost out, and they had no sugar or milk left. All the same John enjoyed his meal and complimented Kent on his flapjacks.

"We shall have to wait for Webb," he said. "When he comes one of us will go back and raise a posse. Then we can surround the place."

Kent looked doubtful. "How are we going to get them out? If that's their headquarters you may lay they've got food for a month—six months perhaps."

"We'll leave that to Webb. We'll bring explosives and bomb them out if they refuse to come."

Kent grunted. "Sounds all right, Rundle, but I've a notion it won't be as easy as all that. Meantime we'll have to lie low. I only hope they didn't spot you while you were up there."

"I'm fairly sure I wasn't seen, but of course they know that we three have been poking about the canyons."

"Yes, and grinning in their sleeves at us. Well, I hope the laugh will be ours next time, but I hate the waiting."

"It won't be long," John comforted him, "Webb will be back this evening."

"For supper," Kent said. "You'd better get some sleep, Rundle. You didn't have much last night."

John slept. What roused him this time was a terrific crash of thunder, and sitting up, he saw the cave mouth darkened by sheets of rain. He looked at his wristwatch and found it was four o'clock. He had slept for seven hours.

Kent was stirring a pot over a small fire. John pulled on his boots and went across to him.

"Bad for Webb," he said. "It's a regular cloudburst."

"Very bad," Kent agreed, "but weather never stops Webb. I'm making soup. You might fill my pipe." John filled it while Kent stirred his soup, and outside the lightning flashed, and the floods roared. It lasted about an hour, then the sun came out, gorgeously crimson amongst and piled storm clouds.

John set out plates and mugs on a rock, which served as table, and went to the entrance to watch for Webb. Little waterfalls dropping from the cliffs made rainbows in the evening light, but of Webb there was no sign.

Dusk fell, darkness came, but no Webb. Kent grew anxious and John was worried, but tried to make no light of it.

"Stopped by some flooded arroyo, most likely," he said. "He will be here in the morning."

But Webb did not come in the morning, nor all next day, and now John and Kent had hardly any food left.

"Rundle, you must ride back and find out what's up. I'll hold the fort," Kent suggested.

John nodded. "And I'll bring the men. Take care of yourself, Kent, and don't move without your gun."

The horses were in a little blind side canyon where there was grass and water. As soon as the moon was up John saddled and rode off. He knew the country now well enough to find his way in the darkness. Actually the shortest cut was through the arroyo close to Spalding's dynamited cave. This began as a canyon, then widened, and became shallow.

Dawn was breaking when John reached the wider part and he was riding steadily up the stony slope when the shot came. With the hard flat crack of the rifle, John's horse went down and the rider sprang free and rolled over just as a second bullet thudded into the horse's body.

His rifle was in a holster on the saddle. He could not reach it without exposing his head, and he had no pistol. There was nothing for it but to lie still. Not that it made much difference. If the fellow went on shooting he was bound to drive a bullet through the horse sooner or later.

There was no more shooting. A voice came from among the rocks on the right of the gorge.

"You can stand and put up your hands, Rundle. You're not going to be killed—yet."

"So it's you, King," John answered. "I might have known it. Lying behind a boulder and trying to shoot me in the back. Your German idea of getting square for the licking I gave you in Piegan, I take it."

King fairly roared with rage. He bounded out from behind his boulder. "Fool of an Englishman. You think, because you got the better of me by a trick, that you are the better man."

"I don't think," said John calmly, "I know. If you have any doubt on the subject come down here and I'll lick you again."

It worked. John had hardly hoped for such luck, but his taunt had roused King to a fury which made him forget his usual caution. Besides, the big German was proud of his strength and firmly believed that he could beat this accursed Englishman.

John himself felt a bit doubtful as King came striding into the open. In the dawn light he looked huge and his clenched fists were like mauls. There was a nasty glint in his pale blue eyes.

"Now I will show you," he said.

"With your pistol, I suppose," John sneered, "Especially as I haven't got one."

With a sort of fury King jerked his revolver from its holster, dropped it and charged, driving at John's head with his left fist. Up shot John's right hand, and his powerful fingers closed on King's left wrist. Swinging his body he pulled King forward, at the same time bringing both hands into play.

As King stumbled forward, off balance, John got his right shoulder under the big man's armpit and stooped swiftly, using King's outstretched arm as a fulcrum. John rose to his full height. King's feet left the ground and he did a sort of Catherine wheel, landing on head and shoulder with a force that dazed him.

John looked down at him. "Satisfied?" he asked.

King glared up. "You'll never live to boast of it," he snarled, and John realised—what he should have realised long before—that King was not alone. Two of his plug-uglies were on the bank, each with a gun in his hand.

"Don't shoot Chavez!" King ordered. "We want him alive to put with Webb."

John bent swiftly and snatched up King's pistol.

"Move either of you," he said to the bullies, "and your boss gets a bullet through him. I may be a rotten shot, King," he added, "but I can't miss at this distance."

Chavez and his companion ducked back out of sight among the rocks, and there was John right out in the open, feeling anything but happy. He kept the pistol levelled at King, and was pretty sure that, if he was fired at, reflex action would pull the trigger and finish the big German. But that, he felt, would be little satisfaction if he, too, was killed. Of late he had become particularly keen about living.

"Stalemate!" he said under his breath, but King heard and grinned sardonically.

Stalemate it was, and for the life of him John could see no way out. He could not stand there all day.

Sooner or later the sun and thirst would get him down and the two thugs would finish him. He could not bolt either. He had no horse, there was no cover. If he tried it the end was certain. Nor was there any chance of help if, as King had said, Webb was a prisoner.


SITTING was easier than standing. John backed a little and sat on the ground, still keeping eyes and gun on King. King was not looking happy. Plainly he was in considerable pain. Yet he was better off than John, who could not relax for an instant.

A shadow fell between John and the sun. He dared not look up, but in King's eyes he saw sudden fright. From the rocks opposite came a shout of alarm; then—John never knew which of the men fired—a couple of shots. John distinctly heard a bullet clang on metal.

On the instant an aeroplane engine roared, and John felt, rather than saw the plane dart forward, sweeping upwards at a steep angle.

"It's Winthrop—Ray Winthrop," was the thought that flashed through his mind.

Round came the plane again, and raced down the gulch. There came a sound like that of a boy running a hoop stick across iron railings. Machine gun bullets sprayed the far side of the gulch. Above the rattle rose a scream and out of the tail of his eye John saw a body bounce out from among the stones and roll down the slope. It did not even twitch.

Winthrop—it was Ray Winthrop—turned his plane again, cut out the engine and came gliding back. John saw his head over the edge of the cockpit.

"Got both!" he shouted. "Can't land. Meet at Halleck." Then his engine cracked again, and within a few seconds the stubby-winged plane was a dot over the distant slopes.

John spoke to King. "Where are your horses?"

"Up there," King answered in a surly tone.

"Lead the way," John insisted.

King scrambled up awkwardly. He seemed very lame, but John was not inclined to mercy. For all he knew, the big brute was shamming. He walked behind him, with King's revolver very ready.

Three horses were ground-hitched among rocks. John picked the best for himself and made King mount the worst.

"What are you going to do?" King demanded.

"Take you to Halleck and lock you up," John answered.

"You can't do it. You're not even a deputy."

"Don't worry about that," said John equably. "Winthrop has all the necessary powers. Get on and remember I'm behind you."

At the edge of the Bad Lands they met Rutherford and Sid, and John couldn't help smiling at the way their eyes widened at sight of King.

"He tried to bushwhack me," he explained briefly. "Luckily Winthrop came along. I expect he's told you."

"He's at Halleck. That's why we came," Rutherford answered. "Where are Webb and Kent?"

"Kent's in a cave up the canyon. Webb started back two days ago, and King boasts they've got him. See here, Mat, I want you to collect at least a dozen good men. We are going to wind up this business in the next twenty-four hours."

"You mean you have found their hidy-hole?" Rutherford exclaimed.

"I mean just that—but I'm not saying more until we've locked up this Hun."

"Sid and I will attend to that, Rundle. You ride on and get some breakfast." John smiled.

"I Certainly need it. I've had nothing but a few flapjacks since yesterday morning." He rode on fast, pulled up at the verandah steps, jumped off, and had his hand on the door handle when it opened—and there stood Norma Harcourt.

"You, John!" she said, and something in her eyes made John's heart miss a beat.

"I—I thought you were at home," he stammered.

"I was anxious. I drove over this morning for news, and met Ray. Oh, John, what have you been doing?"

John pulled himself together. "It's good news, Norma. I've found Spalding's hideout, and I have King prisoner. But I haven't had anything much to eat since yesterday morning. Give me some breakfast and I'll tell you the whole story."

"Come!" she said and took him by the arm.

Ray was in the dining room, enjoying hot rolls, bacon, eggs, and coffee. He looked up with a grin.

"Wish I'd had my camera along just now," he said. "Talk of gangster films, they'll never beat the picture of you squatting there in that gully holding a gun on King and King's two uglies waiting their chance to plug you."

"You never told me that, Ray," said Norma quickly.

"I thought Rundle had better tell you himself. Hasn't he?"

"Not a word except that King is a prisoner, and that he has found Spalding's hideout."

Ray Winthrop stiffened. "Found the hide-out! Is that a fact, Rundle?"

"Yes, and if you can spare me a couple of those eggs you're wolfing I'll give you the yarn."

Norma herself helped him and poured out his coffee and, while he ate John told his story. Ray listened eagerly.

"Gee, Rundle!" he said, when John had finished, "you've beaten us all. This is big news and the quicker we start work the better. If we get force enough to surround this Nazi nest we ought to be able to box the lot."

"Mat's on the job," John told him. "He's getting a dozen men. That ought to be enough."

"It might be. I'll go and talk to him." He went, off leaving John and Norma Harcourt alone.

"John," said Norma. "I'm very proud of you."

"Proud of me!" repeated John in surprise. "That's sweet of you, but I can't take say credit. It was pure chance that I woke up and found the river bed dry."

"And chance of course that you climbed the cliff, found Spalding's hide-out, started back with the news and met and beat that horrible King."

"King. That was luck. Once I got to grips with him he hadn't a chance. He knows nothing of wrestling."

She gave a little stamp. "Oh, you're hopeless, John," she declared.

Before John, much puzzled, could find any reply, Sid opened the door, and said: "Lieutenant Winthrop has flown to Tres Cruces to warn the boys. The boss says there'll be just time for you to take a bath and have a change. Then we'll be riding."


MAT RUTHERFORD had been optimistic about starting so soon. Actually they did not get off until afternoon, and night had fallen before they reached the cave. John dismounted and went in. There was no light.

"Kent!" he called, but got no answer. He flashed his torch.

"They've got him," said Mat who was behind John.

"Looks like it," John answered grimly. "If they've hurt him—"

"They won't," Mat interrupted. "They'll keep him as a hostage. What do we do now?"

"Get some food, put away the horses, then I'll show the way up the cliffs. I want the place surrounded before daylight."

Supper was cooked and eaten inside the cave, then, after a short rest, the men followed John. Including John and Mat there were 14, but two were detached to watch the horses. There was no need to explain the object of the raid, for every man on the two ranches knew the layout, and any one of them would have given a year's pay to finish Spalding. Nor did any object to John as leader. He had been man enough to lick King single-handed.

It was no easy task to get them all up the steep cliff, especially as they had to climb quietly, and John was relieved when they were safe at the top. Either Spalding had not thought they would try it in the dark or he felt so safe he was not worrying. No one smoked, no one spoke as they wound their way in and out among the chaos of rocks which covered the mesa. They reached the sink-hole and John paused a minute and hid a package in a crevice near by; then they pushed on again.

At the foot of the rock spike they halted and John took Mat Rutherford and Bat Harrigan to the top. It was a clear night and the stars gave light enough to see the gorge beyond with the river at the bottom.

John explained the layout. "The sluice gates are probably just inside the tunnel," he said. "There's plenty of room in the gorge for the water to back up for two or three hours while they get their stuff up the dry stream bed from the canyon."

"Then the cave mouth is behind the sluice gates," Mat said, "but there'll be a bolt hole somewhere."

"Sure to be. Probably beyond those rocks to the right. The first thing is to find it and guard it."

"We kin find that all right but how are we going to make 'em bolt?" Harrigan asked.

"I was thinking we might drown them out," John said quietly. "That sink-hole—"

"I get you," Bat chuckled. "That's why you cached the dynamite there."

"It's not a certainty," John answered, "but if we can blow down enough rock to dam the stream where it crosses the bottom of the sink-hole it should work. Wolf Ryan knows dynamite. If we let him down at the end of a rope—"

"He'll do that," Bat cut in. "You and he and I ought to be able to attend to it while the Boss posts the real of the chaps where they're needed."

"I'll see to that," Mat promised. "How long do you reckon your job'll take?"

"Quite a time. Even if it works it will be some hours before the water rises into the cave."

"And if it doesn't work?" Mat asked.

John shrugged. "Then it'll come to a siege. We can't blast them out if they've got Webb and Kent in the cave."

"Go ahead and see what you can do," Mat said. "Well hold the fort."

John, Bat Harrigan and Wolf Ryan slipped away into the darkness while Mat Rutherford collected the rest of his men and told each exactly what his job was. He himself went round and posted them. He neither heard or saw any sign of the enemy, and, just as the moon began to rise he and Sid Kirby got back to the foot of the pinnacle.

It was cold up there on the high ground and the two took shelter under the rock from the thin night wind.

"Wander how they're making it down at the sink-hole," said Sid, and the winds were hardly out of his mouth before there came a distant thud.

"That's dynamite," agreed Mat, "but you may just as well sit still. It'll be some time before we know what they've done—if anything."

"I'll lay Rundle's done it all right," declared the boy. "He don't make many mistakes."

Mat smiled to himself. He wasn't a bit jealous of John.

Nearly an hour had passed before he and Sid heard steps behind them. John and his two followers came up.

"Well?" Mat asked eagerly.

"I believe we've done the trick," John answered and, though he spoke very quietly, there was a little thrill in his voice. "There's hardly a drop coming through."

"I done told you," Sid exclaimed.

"We'd better see if the water's rising in the rift," Mat said, and they all went cautiously forward.

In the faint moonlight it was not easy to see what was happening down in the dark rift, yet John was fairly sure that the water was higher than it had been.

"Well have to wait," he said. "Funny thing that we haven't seen or heard anything of Spalding's crowd. It would be a sell for us if they'd cleared out."

"Cleared out!" repeated Mat in dismay.

"Where would they clear to?" Sid asked astutely. "Ain't this their head quarters? And think of all the stuff they'd have to move."

John shook his head. "It's Webb and Kent I'm thinking of. I'm going up on the pinnacle. Coming, Mat?"

It was cold up at the top, and the two were glad when the sun rose. Now they were able to see down into the rift. The water had risen four or five feet and was pounding up steadily.

"Ought to push them out pretty soon," Mat said, but John was doubtful.

"That cave may stretch for half a mile for all we know. It may be days before they're driven out."

"Then we're going to be damned hungry," Mat growled.

Another hour dragged by. Now the sun was well up and the water in the rift was rising fast. It had covered the mouth of the tunnel.

A shout rang through the clear air. It came from Mart Metters, who was posted opposite.

"White flag from the cave mouth. Spalding wants to see Rundle."

"I'll be there," John answered as he turned to climb down. Ten minutes later he was facing his step-father at the upper entrance of the cave.


THERE were new lines on Spalding's face. He looked much older than when John had last seen him. But the biggest change was in his eyes. The old cool confidence was replaced by rage and something very like fear.

"You are more clever than I had thought, John Rundle," he said, "but I am not beaten yet. Down there"—he pointed into the cave—"down there your friends Webb and Kent are tied to two rings in the wall. Close by them is a box of dynamite to which a fuse is attached. If you do not agree to my terms or if you lay hands on me that fuse will be lighted."

John looked at the other and realised that he meant precisely what he said.

"What are your terms?" he said.

"I have three men in the cave. They and I must be allowed to ride away. We must have your word that there will be no pursuit."

"No pursuit?"

"None to-day," said Spalding. "Afterwards"—he sneered—"it won't matter." John's eyes narrowed. He had a fierce desire to take this man by the throat and choke the life out of him, but he had to think of Webb and Kent.

"I must talk to Rutherford," he said curtly.

"Don't be too long," Spalding warned him. "The water is nearly up to the spot where your friends are tied."

John raised his voice and shouted for Mat. Rutherford came running, and John told him the terms.

Mat bit his lip. "What do you say John? Can we trust this man to keep his bargain?"

"He must bring out Webb and Kent," John said flatly.

"Then I have to trust you to let me go?" retorted Spalding. John took no notice of the taunt.

"Do we accept his terms, Mat?"

Mat shrugged.

"No choice, John," he said, John turned to his step-father.

"Bring out Kent and Webb safely and you and your men can ride." Spalding turned and went straight down into the cave.

"Webb will raise Cain," said Mat as they waited and, when presently the sheriff with Kent arrived at the cave mouth and heard of the bargain. John had never seen him so angry.

"You'd never ought to have made any such terms," he exploded. "I'm ashamed of you both."

John showed no shame, "Your life is worth more to us than this fellow, to say nothing of Kent's. And we have only promised him one day's start."

"Plenty to take him down into Mexico," retorted Webb bitterly, "and then it's all to do again."

"And you not here to do it. And none of the evidence we want. We're doing our best, Webb. It's no use.

"Maybe you're going."

"Maybe you're right," Webb said heavily. "Get going Spalding. There's one good thing—you'll never show your treacherous face in this State again."

An ugly glow lit Spalding's eyes, but he did not reply. His men had brought the horses out of the cave mouth ready saddled. The four mounted and rode away. They went north by the track that John had already spotted. There was no other way for horses to travel. Within a minute or two they were out of sight among the rocks.

Mat turned eagerly towards the cave, but John checked him.

"Might be a time bomb. We'll have to be careful."

"There's a lot of stuff down there," Kent said. "Rifles and tommy guns enough for a small army. We'll have a job to shift it all. But I don't think there's any trap like a time-bomb."

"You can't be sure," Webb said, "I shall go down first and make certain. Rundle, you'd better call up your men. We shall need 'em all."

John shouted, and the men came running. They were keen to see and hear what had happened.

"Watch out!" The warning came from the quick-eyed Sid. He pointed to the north. "Something flashed in the sun above them rocks."

"Down—all of you!" roared Webb, and flung himself on his face. As the rest followed his example, a machine-gun rattled and a storm of bullets beat about the party.

But for Sid's warning, every man back would have been wiped out. As it was, three were hit. John got a bullet in the left thigh; Sid through the shoulder.

It was Webb who hauled John to safety behind a boulder. Sid was able to crawl to cover; the third man, a puncher from Tres Cruces, was dead, shot through the head.

"The dirty devils!" growled Bat Harrigan.

"It was our fault," Webb snapped, "We'd never ought to have trusted them." As he spoke, Kent was fixing a tourniquet round John's leg, which was bleeding badly.

"We're in one hell of a fix!" said Bat, "and there ain't a thing we can do about it."

This was unpleasantly true, for though they were safe where they were, they could not leave the clump of rocks without the certainty of being shot down. Obviously Spalding had prepared this ambush well in advance, so no doubt, he and his companions had food, water and ammunition in plenty. John's party, on the other hand had hardly any food, and their cantines would not last long once the sun got hot. They could not reach the shelter of the cave because the mouth faced the muzzle of the machine-gun. The more they considered their position, the more helpless it seemed.

"We'll have to get Rundle out of this pretty soon," Kent said. "He's badly hit." He looked round, but no one spoke. Yet there wasn't a man there who would not have risked his life to help John, had there been any way of doing it. The sun began to scorch.

"Maybe they've gone," Bat said, and, raised his hat on his rifle barrel. Instantly it was ripped by a hail of bullets. Bat retrieved the remains.

"They don't reckon to let any of us get home," he remarked.

"Yet I'll bet we do get home," said John, who sat with his back against a rock. His face was rather white, but there was a light in his eyes.

Bat stiffened. "By God, you're right, Rundle! I hear it."

Then they all heard it—the steady roar of a powerful engine. A moment later Ray Winthrop swept into sight.

Spalding's machine-gun crackled, and John laughed.

"The fools! That's done the trick! Now watch!"

Ray came round in a tight curve. Next moment they saw the first bomb drop. It fell just in front of the rock where the machine-gun was hidden, burst with a crash, and up went a fountain of splintered stone. John's men watched breathless as Ray wheeled again and dropped lower. A second bomb left the rack.

"Right on top of them!" Sid screeched.

He was right. The bomb fell on the far side of the rock screen. Again the roar, again the uprush of broken rock. Before the echoes died, the roar was renewed, not so loud but deeper, longer, a prolonged crash. The whole mesa rocked and quivered.

"An earthquake!" gasped Sid.

"Something like it," said John "That bomb went through the crust. It's made another sink-hole. If I'm not greatly mistaken, Spalding and all his crew, have gone down alive into the pit."

John was right. When the fall had ceased, Mat and Webb looked dawn into a pit, some fifty feet across where a great depth of dark water still boiled and bubbled ominously. Of Spalding and his crew not a sign remained.

"Saved us the trouble of burying them," Webb said briefly, "Rutherford, you owe something to Rundle and Winthrop."

"A debt which I can never hope to repay," Mat answered seriously. "Now to get John home. Kent and I will see to that, Webb while you tackle the cave."

Kent had to give John an anesthetic before cutting the bullet out of his leg. When John came to himself, Norma Harcourt was sitting by his bed.

"More work for you, Norma," he said in a low voice. She turned, and the light in her eyes made John's heart beats quicken.

"I'm glad John. No—not that you're hurt but that you can't leave us."

"But I must soon," he said gently—"just as soon as I'm well."

"You won't—and you can't!" she answered. "John I have bad news for you. You are going to be lame for a long time. Dr. Kent says that you will never be fit for active service."

"It's bad as that," he said slowly, and fell silent.

"Is it so bad as all that, John?" she asked. She laid a hand on his arm. "Can't you be content to stay with us? There is plenty of useful work to be done here and now, thanks to you, we can do it."

He gazed at her. "You want me to stay, Norma?"

"More than anything else in the world," she answered, and bending down, kissed him on the lips.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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